2019 Innovators

Kwabena Bediako, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, for work on creative chemical approaches to quantum materials for energy conservation, energy conversion & energy storage, in particular as it relates to our accelerating reliance on information and communication technology.

Gloria Brar, Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, for innovative work on defects in cellular stress response pathways which are heavily associated with human disease, including diabetes, hereditary blindness, neurodegeneration, and multiple myeloma.

Stephen Brohawn, Assistant Professor, and Hillel Adesnik, Associate Professor, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, for work on molecular tools that harness force from ultrasound to precisely control neuronal activity, which is important for the treatment of neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease, depression, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. Team Award.


Kwabena Bediako

Kwabena Bediako


Title: Quantum materials for energy conservation, energy conversion & energy storage

Abstract: If humanity is to profoundly alter its environmental footprint in the twenty-first century and avoid the most devastating consequences of climate change, it is imperative to meet the challenge of escalating global energy demand with the innovation of unprecedentedly efficient renewable energy conversion and storage systems. However, our accelerating reliance on information and communication technology (ICT) also mandates technologically disruptive scientific breakthroughs that allow electronic, communication, and computing devices to operate at orders of magnitude lower energy consumption. These era-defining problems can only be truly solved by a new fundamental understanding of how to control matter to eliminate energy loss in the movement and manipulation of charged particles like electrons. Our lab designs and synthesizes new atomically-thin, precisely tailored materials in which the collective behavior of electrons can be studied and exquisitely controlled. We leverage these materials to uncover the principles that underlie efficient manipulation of electron transport within solids—the basis for novel ultralow-power electronic devices—and across solid–liquid interfaces—enabling the next-generation of fuel cells and electrolyzers for renewable energy conversion and storage.

Profile: Kwabena Bediako was born in Ghana, West Africa. He moved to the US in 2004 for his undergraduate studies in Chemistry at Calvin College, MI, graduating with honors in Chemistry in 2008. After a year working at UOP Honeywell in IL where he researched new catalysts for the petrochemical and gas processing industries, he traveled from the Midwest to the East Coast to begin his graduate studies in Inorganic Chemistry with Prof. Daniel Nocera at MIT (and later Harvard University). His graduate research focused on structural and mechanistic studies of water splitting electrocatalysis at cobalt and nickel compounds. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2015 from Harvard University, Kwabena began postdoctoral work in Prof. Philip Kim's group in the Department of Physics at Harvard, where he studied ion intercalation and quantum transport in 2D van der Waals heterostructures. In July 2018, Kwabena joined the faculty of the UC Berkeley Department of Chemistry. His group pursues research at the intersection of chemistry and physics, with a particular emphasis on electrochemical manipulation of two-dimensional materials. He is also the recipient of the Office of Naval Research 2019 Young Investigator Award. Learn More.


Gloria BrarGloria Brar

Molecular and Cell Biology

Title: Uncovering the molecular basis of natural activation of the Unfolded Protein Response

Abstract: Stress response pathways are mechanisms have evolved to allow cells to adapt to changing conditions. Defects in these pathways are often associated with diseases, either because their deficiency makes cells poorly resistant to physiological changes or because their hyperactivation may lead to chronic stress. The Unfolded Protein Response (UPR) is a particularly important stress response pathway that is heavily associated with human disease, including diabetes, hereditary blindness, neurodegeneration, and multiple myeloma. There is strong evidence that both under- and over-activation of the UPR are pathogenic, but any concrete understanding how the UPR contributes to these diseases has been hampered by the fact that scientists still do not know how this pathway is activated or which genes modulate its activity. This lack of understanding is due, in part, to the fact that UPR activity has been primarily studied in laboratory conditions by harsh, non-physiological activation by drugs. Our lab discovered meiosis as an experimentally tractable context in which the UPR is naturally activated. We propose to leverage this unique natural instance of UPR activation to find the long-mysterious set of factors that control UPR activity.

Profile: Gloria Brar earned her B.A. in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley in 2002 and her Ph.D. in Biology from MIT in 2008. As a graduate student with Angelika Amon, she studied the regulation of chromosome cohesion and pairing during meiosis. Gloria was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jonathan Weissman at UCSF, where she used the new technology of ribosome profiling to define the gene regulation that occurs as cells proceed through meiosis. In January 2014, Gloria returned to UC Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in the MCB department. The Brar lab studies the interconnectedness of different “levels” of gene expression using classical and genomic approaches. They focus primarily on the gene regulation that drives the dramatic cellular remodeling necessary for gamete formation during meiotic differentiation. Gloria is a Pew Scholar, a recipient of an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship. Learn More.


Stephen Brohawn Stephen Brohawn      Hillel Adesnik Hillel Adesnik


Team Award. Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Molecular and Cell Biology

Title: Development of a sonogenetic toolkit to control neural activity with ultrasound

Abstract: Manipulating electrical activity in the brain is central to basic neuroscience research and is clinically important for the treatment of neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease, depression, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. Current approaches to modulate neural activity are limited in the depth of tissue accessible without invasive surgery, the duration of modulation, and the number of parallel manipulations that can be accomplished. We propose developing a solution to these challenges: a set of molecular tools that harness force from ultrasound to precisely control neuronal activity. Ultrasound has been known since the 1950s to effect electrical activity in the brain and its advantageous properties compared to electrical and optical stimulation have generated increased interest in its research and therapeutic applications. However, the mechanisms underlying the effects of ultrasound remain unknown and use to date has generated variable or unpredictable results. We have recently identified an ion channel that is directly activated by ultrasound and may be responsible for some biological effects of ultrasound administration. We propose building upon this discovery to characterize and engineer a set of genetically-encodable ultrasound-sensitive ion channels. We will introduce these tools in mice to reliably and specifically control genetically defined brain circuits using focused, low-intensity, transcranial ultrasound. 

Profile: Stephen Brohawn is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology in the Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. His lab is focused on understanding principles of mechanical force sensation in the nervous system from the molecular to physiological levels. He is a New York Stem Cell Foundation - Robertson Investigator and a recipient of a Klingenstein-Simons Neuroscience Fellowship Award, a McKnight Scholar Award, and a NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. Stephen received his B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Delaware in 2004, his Ph.D. in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2010 where he worked with Thomas Schwartz Ph.D on the structure and biophysics of the nuclear pore complex, and completed his postdoctoral training as a Helen Hay Whitney fellow at The Rockefeller University in 2016 where he worked with Roderick MacKinnon, M.D. on the structure and function of mechanosensitive ion channels.  Learn more.

Profile: Hillel Adesnik is an associate professor of neurobiology. He studies the neural basis of sensory perception. His lab uses cutting edge optical and genetic technologies to dissect the cortical circuitry responsible for our ability to use touch and vision to interact with the world. The ultimate goal of his laboratory is to achieve a mechanistic understanding for how precise spatiotemporal patterns of activity in the brain give rise to our sensory experience. Dr. Adesnik received his PhD in neuroscience from USCF where he studied the molecular basis of long term memory, and was a Helen Hay Whitney Foundation postdoctoral fellow at UCSD where he investigated the excitatory and inhibitory circuits that represent sensory space in the cerebral cortex. He is currently a New York Stem Cell Foundation Robertson Investigator.  Learn More.