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Chair's Note

Newsletter issue:
David J.-Perkel

Dear UW Biology community,

Welcome to a new academic year! Hopefully you all, whether you are returning or are new to the department, had a fun and recharging summer. We are thrilled to have you join us.

As we begin the quarter, I’m feeling a lot of excitement in the air. More people are on campus, interacting more easily and spontaneously. Cafes are filled and hallway conversations are taking place more frequently than we’ve seen since February 2020. It’s buzzing with energy and I’m sure all of us are enjoying it. While COVID and monkeypox remain active, it is encouraging to know that our Biology majors, and our greater Biology community, understand the science behind these diseases and the ways in which vaccines, masking and other important public health measures can improve and save lives all around us. 

Many of you are seeing some of your instructors in person for the first time. Two of our newest faculty members, Matt Akamatsu and Yan Wang will be teaching their first courses this year, and many of you may be having your first fully in-person course experiences. Such activities can add anxiety and yet, engaging with material is by far the best way to learn about how the natural world works. And if you want a chance to relax and “naturebathe” right here on campus, we will be having open hours at our Greenhouse on the south side of the Life Sciences Building, right along the Burke-Gilman Trail. That will be increasingly inviting as the weather turns colder and wetter. Keep your eyes out for the announcement of our Greenhouse’s public hours.

Exciting research continues in the department and many of our Biology majors take part. Briana Abrahms’ group has published new research about how top predator species can trap themselves as they adapt to climate change. Alejandro Rico-Guevara’s group published work on why 1 in 5 female Jacobin hummingbirds have male-like plumage. If you are interested in getting involved in learning new things about the natural world, I encourage you to visit the Biology website, contact a professor or TA, and take the plunge!

And Biology members continue to receive well-earned honors, and we mention a few of them here. Prof. Emeritus Jim Truman was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Affiliate Professor Sue Moore was appointed by President Biden to serve as a Commissioner on the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. Prof. Adam Leaché was awarded the UW Distinguished Teaching Award. Assoc. Teaching Professor Jon Herron won the Honors Excellence in Teaching Award – for the 5th time! Prof. Billie Swalla won the Service Award from the Pan American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology. Congratulations to these Biology members and others for these accolades.

The department is at a significant crossroads; with an unprecedented number of recent and upcoming faculty retirements, we are recruiting new faculty members this year and will be doing so in the coming few years. This is an opportunity to think strategically about where we anticipate biology is headed in the coming decades and where we want Biology (the department) to be placed over that time. It is an exciting time at UW Biology and we look forward to seeing the department grow. 

Despite all of the change we're experiencing, our core missions as part of a public university remain entire unchanged: discovering new knowledge about life on earth; transmitting and sharing that knowledge with our students; helping the next generation of biologists gain research experience and professional skills; and inform the community about the living systems around them, ranging in scale from molecules to ecosystems. We are all working together. The UW Biology community inspires me on a daily basis. I hope the new academic year is off to a great start for all of us.

Best wishes,

David Perkel
Professor and Chair, Department of Biology