2019 Beckman Young Investigator

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Professor Keriann Backus has been selected as a 2019 Beckman Young Investigator by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

Backus will use her Beckman funding to develop new approaches to identify functional, disease-linked, and chemical probe accessible pockets in human proteins.

Backus received bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and in Latin American studies from Brown University in 2007. She pursued her Ph.D. in the laboratories of Professor Benjamin Davis (Oxford) and Professor Clifton Barry (NIH, NIAID) as a 2007 Rhodes Scholar and an NIH Oxford Cambridge Scholar. In 2012, Backus completed her doctorate and began an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at The Scripps Research Institute in the laboratory of Professor Benjamin Cravatt. She joined the UCLA faculty in 2018 as an Assistant Professor in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and an Assistant Professor of Biological Chemistry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

In the area of chemical biology, Backus’ group combines chemoproteomics and genomics to develop new tools to study and manipulate protein function and cell fate. Research within the group spans chemical biology, organic synthesis, pharmacology, immunology, biochemistry and systems biology.

To learn more about Backus’ research, visit her group’s website.

The Beckman Young Investigator Program provides research support to the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in chemistry and the life sciences. The program is open to those within the first three years of a tenure-track position.

The projects awarded by the Beckman foundation are truly innovative, high-risk and show promise for contributing to significant advances in chemistry and the life sciences. Projects are normally funded for a period of four years. 

According to the Beckman Foundation website, “the awardees exemplify the Foundation’s mission of supporting the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences, particularly to foster the invention of methods, instruments and materials that will open new avenues of research in science. They were selected from a pool of over 300 applicants after a three-part review led by a panel of scientific experts.”

“Our new 2019 BYI awardees are tackling a broad range of challenges, from production of sustainable plastics and batteries, to new rapid genetic screening techniques for cancer therapies, to modeling of magnetic quantum materials, among others,” shared Dr. Anne Hultgren, Executive Director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. “We’re very excited to welcome these exceptional scientists to the Beckman family, and look forward to seeing their progress over the next few years.”

Arnold Beckman, the founder of Beckman Instruments, personally created many devices that revolutionized the study and understanding of chemistry and human biology. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation provides grants to researchers and non-profit research institutions in chemistry and life sciences to promote scientific discoveries, and particularly to foster the invention of methods, instruments, and materials that will open up new avenues of research.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.