2013 - 2014 Fellows

Felix Fischer

Graphene Nanoribbons


Molecular Electronics and Sensing Based on Graphene Nanoribbons

The potential of single layer graphene based electronic devices has been recognized mostly due to its exceptionally high charge carrier mobility. While the extended two-dimensional hexagonal carbon lattice is a semimetal or a zero-gap semiconductor, structural confinement to an essentially one-dimensional graphene ribbon opens a band-gap large enough to expose room temperature semiconductor properties. The primary goal of Felix’s research is the development of a rational synthetic bottom-up approach towards atomically defined graphene nanoribbons that enables him to harness the exotic electronic and magnetic properties emerging from quantum confinement effects at the nanometer scale. His design of a new generation of high-performance electronic materials paves the way to meet the ever increasing demand for smaller, faster, and more energy efficient electronic devices.

Felix R. Fischer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley. He is interested in the development of atomically unambiguously defined nanomaterials and their incorporation into functional electronic devices such as organic field-effect transistors, photovoltaic cells and integrated molecular circuits. Prior to joining the faculty at UC Berkeley, Felix was a German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Columbia University in New York. Learn more.

Daniela Kaufer

Preventing Epilepsy

Integrative Biology

Blood-Brain Barrier Dysfunction as a Biomarker and a Therapeutic Target for the Prevention of Acquired Epilepsy

The protection of the brain from blood-borne toxins, proteins and cells is critical to the brain’s normal function. Insults to the brain, including traumatic brain injuries, stroke, infections, and brain tumors are associated with Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) dysfunction, and significant increase in the risk for epilepsy. However, there is no clinically applicable strategy to identify at-risk patients, or prevent the development of epilepsy in them. Daniela Kaufer, in collaboration with Dr. Alon Friedman from Ben Gurion University, will build on previous findings demonstrating that the blood protein albumin activates TGFß signaling cascade in astrocytes and initiates an epileptogenic process following BBB compromise. Kaufer and Friedman have demonstrated that blocking TGFß signaling following injury prevents the development of epilepsy, and identified an FDA-approved drug that effectively blocks the development of epilepsy and eliminates delayed seizures following BBB insult in rats and mice. Now they propose a preventive approach that includes screening BBB integrity as a marker to identify at-risk patients, and administration of losartan or alternative TGFß signaling blockers to prevent epilepsy development in these patients.

Daniela Kaufer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley. She was born and raised in Israel where she studied Biological Sciences at Technion, and received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biochemistry at Hebrew University. She was a Human Frontiers Post-doctoral Fellow at Stanford University, before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 2005. Daniela’s lab studies brain plasticity throughout life in face of stress and neurological insults, with a particular focus on plasticity involving adult neural stem cells and across the neurovascular unit – neurons, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and the components of blood brain barrier. Learn more.

Lydia Sohn

Cancer Screening

Mechanical Engineering

Label-Free Isolation and Analysis of Circulating Tumor Cells for Metastatic Breast Cancer Biomarker Discovery

Shed from primary solid tumors and entered into the blood stream, circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are believed to play a key role in the metastatic progression of breast cancer. Clinical studies have shown that breast-cancer patients with >5 CTCs/7.5 mL of whole blood prior to therapy have poor overall survival. Very little is known about CTCs, as their isolation and classification are extremely difficult due to their rarity: 1-10 cells/7.5 mL of peripheral blood. Lydia will develop a label-free method of isolating, screening, and sorting CTCs from metastatic breast-cancer patient blood. Metastatic breast-cancer cell lines spiked into healthy donor blood and metastatic breast-cancer patient blood will be used in her studies. She will subsequently molecularly characterize isolated CTCs to discover new biomarkers. Her success would enable a new pathway for determining the course of treatment for metastatic breast cancer patients, monitor cancer therapy, and perform early detection of disease.

Lydia Sohn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. Previously she was part of the faculty at Princeton University and was a postdoctoral fellow at AT&T Bell Laboratories in the Semiconductor Physics Research Department, where she developed new methods of lithography with an atomic force microscope. Her research focuses on developing and employing quantitative techniques to analyze single cells. Learn more.

Feng Wang

Optoelectronic Devices


Graphene-Based Optoelectronics: from Ultrafast Nanophotonic Modulator to High-Sensitivity Optical Sensing

Graphene, a one-atom thick sheet of carbon, is an emerging new material with extraordinary physical properties. Electrically graphene exhibits the highest room-temperature mobility, and electrons move in graphene as if they have zero mass. Optically graphene interacts strongly with light of all wavelengths, and its optical absorption can be easily controlled through electrical gating and structure engineering. In addition, graphene is highly compatible with nanofabrication and can be readily integrated with silicon. This combination of remarkable electrical, optical, and nanofabrication properties makes graphene an exciting platform for new optoelectronic devices--ranging from nanophotonic modulators to optical sensing -- all integrated on a silicon chip. Feng will develop novel integrated graphene-based optoelectronics, in particular ultrafast, energy-efficient nanophotonic modulators for next-generation computing and high-sensitivity optical sensing that significantly surpass currently available alternatives.

Feng Wang received a B.A. from Fudan University, Shanghai, in 1999 and a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2004. From 2005-2007, he was a Miller Fellow with the Miller Institute for Basic Science at UC Berkeley. He joined the Physics Department at UC Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in 2007. He is interested in light-matter interaction in condensed matter physics, with an emphasis on novel physical phenomena emerging in nanoscale structures and at surfaces and interfaces. Learn more.

Mary Wildermuth

Plant Defense

Plant and Microbial Biology

Alteration of Parasite-Induced Plant Processes to Promote Durable Disease Resistance and Enhance Agronomic Product Traits

Powdery mildews are widespread plant parasites with a devastating impact on California agriculture. Currently, extensive chemical treatments are used to limit powdery mildews. Using Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant that facilitates molecular studies of plant-pathogen interactions, and lasers to isolate specific cells at the infection site, the Wildermuth group identified plant processes that the powdery mildew fungus manipulates to promote its proliferation. Specifically, endoreduplication, an altered cell cycle that is associated with enhanced metabolic capacity, was induced in plant cells underneath the fungal feeding site. Targeted reduction of this process and its downstream impact on metabolism limits powdery mildew proliferation in Arabidopsis and may promote durable powdery mildew resistance in agronomic species. By contrast, increasing endoreduplication or its impacted metabolic pathways could enhance size and nutrient content of specific commodities such as tomato fruit, as well as enhanced bioproduction of specialized plant metabolites. Mary will take the initial translation of this research and apply it to relevant agronomic species and bioproduction platforms, which will allow for the prioritization and formulation of strategies for commercialization.

Mary Wildermuth studied Chemical Engineering at Cornell University and received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder. From 1998-2002 she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Medical School concentrating on molecular genetics. At UC Berkeley since 2003, she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Her research focuses on investigating mechanisms that mediate plant-microbe interactions. Learn more.