Faculty Spotlight: Professor Ellen Sletten

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Congratulations to Professor Ellen Sletten on her promotion to associate professor with tenure, effective July 1, 2021.

Professor Ellen Sletten received her B.S. in Chemistry from Stonehill College in 2006 where she worked in the laboratory of Professor Louis Liotta on the synthesis of alkaloid glycosidase inhibitors. During her undergraduate education, she also performed research in Professor Kara Bren’s group at the University of Rochester and Professor Neil Thomas’s group at the University of Nottingham. Sletten pursued her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley with Professor Carolyn Bertozzi where she received an ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Fellowship. Her thesis work involved the optimization and development of bioorthogonal chemistries and their subsequent applications in labeling living systems. Upon graduation in 2011, Sletten joined the laboratory of Professor Tim Swager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow where she worked with soft fluorous materials for use in fluorescent sensors. 

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The Sletten group in 2021

Sletten joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at UCLA as an Assistant Professor and John McTague Career Development Chair in 2015. Her group takes a multidisciplinary approach towards the creation of enhanced nanotherapeutics, shortwave infrared diagnostics, and new chemical tools to study living systems. Research within the group involves a mix of organic synthesis, fluorous chemistry, chemical biology, self-assembly, polymer synthesis, photophysics, nanomedicine, and pharmacology. 

This year Sletten received the department’s 2020-2021 McCoy Award, which recognizes the researcher in the department who has made the greatest contribution of the year to the science of chemistry and biochemistry.  Sletten and coworkers developed bright fluorophores for shortwave infrared emission, the region of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond where the eye can see. These new emitters allow researchers to image through skin and tissue, allowing for real-time non-invasive fluorescent imaging in mice. This work has the potential to lead to safe, low-cost optical diagnostics in clinical settings.

Sletten’s many awards and honors include 2020 International Chemical Biology Society (ICBS) Young Chemical Biologist Award, 2019 ACS Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Young Investigator, 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Fellow in Chemistry, 2018 Hellman Fellow, and 2018 UCLA Alpha Chi Sigma (AXΣ) Glenn Seaborg Award.  In 2018, Sletten received a prestigious $1.5 million New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.  

The Sletten Group has constructed a “PHOTONbooth”, which is a fun twist on a photobooth, which they bring to local schools and to UCLA’s yearly Exploring Your Universe, to provide an avenue for children to experience fluorescence first hand. The booth is coupled with demonstrations of household fluorescent materials and the creation of highlighter glowsticks.

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