Wolfgang Losert Elected AAAS Fellow

Wolfgang Losert  has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Wolfgang Losert. Credit: UMD/Lisa Helfert. Wolfgang Losert. Credit: UMD/Lisa Helfert.

In his research, Losert aims to discover emergent dynamic properties of complex systems at the interface of physics and biology. He currently leads a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research that transformed our understanding of how cells sense their physical environment. He also serves as co-principal investigator on a Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative center grant from the National Institutes of Health focused on information processing in sensory brain circuits.

Losert actively fosters cross-disciplinary interactions and new research and educational opportunities on campus and beyond. He helped launch and currently co-leads the American Physical Society Group on Data Science. He was part of a trans-university initiative of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (called NEXUS) that developed new science and math courses for biology majors and pre-health care students that are being widely adopted. He led the development of and co-directs the NCI-UMD Partnership for Integrative Cancer Research, which provides UMD faculty members and graduate students the opportunity to tackle pressing problems in cancer research in collaboration with National Cancer Institute experts. 

A Fellow of the American Physical Society, Losert joined UMD in 2000 as an assistant professor and served as an associate dean in CMNS (2014-22) and as interim IPST director (2019-20). He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the City College of the City University of New York in 1998 and his diplom in applied physics from the Technical University of Munich in Germany in 1995.

Also elected from the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) were  mathematician Abba Gumel and computer scientists Mohammad Hajiaghayi  and Dana Nau.

“I join the CMNS community in congratulating Professors Gumel, Hajiaghayi, Losert and Nau on their well-deserved election as AAAS Fellows,” said CMNS Dean Amitabh Varshney. “This is an affirmation of what we already know—that they are each pushing the boundaries in their respective fields and making a significant impact on the grand challenges our society faces today.”

UMD’s 2022 Fellows, seven in total, join a class of 506 new Fellows who have moved their fields forward, paving the way for scientific advances that benefit society. They bring diverse and novelty thinking, innovative approaches and passion that will help solve the world’s most complex problems, according to AAAS’s announcement.

“AAAS is proud to elevate these standout individuals and recognize the many ways in which they’ve advanced scientific excellence, tackled complex societal challenges and pushed boundaries that will reap benefits for years to come,” Sudip S. Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said in an announcement. 

Distinguished University Professor Ed Ott Retires

Distinguished University Professor Ed Ott retired in December, having served on the UMD faculty for a remarkable and stellar 43 years. Ott is globally known for his pioneering contributions in nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory. 

"Ed has had a magnificient career, exploring and explaining chaos and helping researchers to understand its impact across disciplines," said Physics chair Steve Rolston. 

In recent years, Ott was instrumental in sparking intense activity in applying machine learning to nonlinear dynamics, giving keynote lectures and invited talks in several countries. For the AIP journal Chaos he was asked to co-edit a special 2020 issue: When machine learning meets complex systems: Networks, chaos, and nonlinear dynamics.

Ott, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is a University of Maryland Distinguished University Professor and holder of the Yuen Sang and Yu Yuen Kit So Endowed Professorship in nonlinear dynamics. He received the 2014 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society, and in 2016, with  Celso Grebogi and James A. Yorke, was named a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate in physics for "...development of a control theory of chaotic systems."

In 2017,  Ott received the Lewis Fry Richardson Medal of the European Geosciences Union for pioneering contributions in the theory of chaos.  Also in 2017, he was selected for the Jürgen Moser Lecture and Award, of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics "... for his extensive and influential contributions to nonlinear dynamics, including seminal work on chaos theory and on the dynamics of physical systems." He was elected a foreign member of the Academia Europaea for his outstanding achievements and international scholarship as a researcher.  

Ott is a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.  He has served as an editor or editorial board member for most renowned journals in his field, including Physica D, Physical Review Letters, Physics of Fluids, Physical Review, Chaos and Dynamics and Stability of Systems.  

Ott received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering at The Cooper Union and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrophysics from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, then enjoyed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of Cambridge University. Upon his return to the U.S., he joined the Electrical Engineering faculty at Cornell. He left Ithaca in 1979 to join the Department of Physics and Department of Electrical Engineering on this campus. He is a member of the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics (IREAP), and has held appointments at the Naval Research Lab and what is now the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

In addition to more than 500 papers, Ott has written the book "Chaos in Dynamical Systems", and edited "Coping with Chaos,"  a collection of reprints that focuses on how scientists observe, quantify, and control chaos.   He has advised more than 50 doctoral students, starting with Distinguished University Professor Tom Antonsen at Cornell University (1977) and most recently including Amitava Banerjee (2022).


Recent Alumnus Embraced Community and Service at UMD

Joining a graduate program is not just about choosing a university and studying a subject. It’s also about joining a community of people who help shape the experience and can support and welcome people who are new to the world of academic research.

Andrew Guo (Ph.D. ’22, physics) spent a lot of his time at UMD researching the underpinnings of quantum interactions and algorithms as a graduate student at the Joint Quantum Institute and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS). During that period he also made time to connect with surrounding communities and to invite other people to participate in physics and astronomy research through the graduate student organization called Graduate Resources for Advancing Diversity with Maryland Astronomy and Physics (GRAD-MAP).

Andrew Guo teaching a lesson as part of the 2018 ASDAN Math Tournament in Beijing, China.Andrew Guo teaching a lesson as part of the 2018 ASDAN Math Tournament in Beijing, China.Guo credits his choice to study physics to a natural spark of curiosity, along with his childhood enjoyment of math and science. 

“Physics in particular inspired me, both because of its elegance and simplicity and its ability to have a huge impact on society,” Guo said. “For me, personal curiosity was a big factor. But also, knowing that there's potential societal impact as a result of research was a key motivating factor.”

Before coming to UMD, Guo studied physics as an undergraduate at Stanford University, where he became particularly intrigued by quantum information and quantum computing. 

“I thought UMD was doing great work at that area from sort of the full stack—from experimental trapped ion quantum computing all the way up to the theoretical complexity theory side,” Guo said. “So, I wanted to dive in, and they offered me a fellowship through QuICS, which I've been affiliated with through all my six plus years here. And I think I found a great community there.”

 Andrew Guo with three other recipients of QuICS Lanczos Graduate Fellowships. From left to right: Aniruddha Bapat, Minh Tran, Andrew Guo, and Eddie Schoute.  Image credit: Arushi Bodas Andrew Guo with three other recipients of QuICS Lanczos Graduate Fellowships. From left to right: Aniruddha Bapat, Minh Tran, Andrew Guo, and Eddie Schoute. Image credit: Arushi Bodas

After Guo decided to come to UMD, he hadn’t settled on exactly what aspects of quantum research to focus on, and there were several professors he was open to working with. Alexey Gorshkov, an adjunct associate professor of physics at UMD, approached him about research into long-range interacting systems. This research looked at how interactions between quantum particles that aren’t immediate neighbors influence the spread of the property called quantum entanglement and can speed up quantum computations. 

“I was excited that I was able to get such an outstanding student,” Gorshkov said. “It was fantastic, from both the research aspect and the mentoring service aspect. He did well in both, wrote excellent papers, and also was very helpful to other people in the group.”

Pursuing the line of research, Guo and his colleagues were able to make several advances, including identifying how speed limits for quantum information can depend on the particular task and making a protocol that achieves the theoretical speed limit for certain tasks.

“I found it very, very helpful to have close collaborators—people to talk to who can help you when you're stuck, who can bounce ideas off each other,” Guo said. “It was a pleasant surprise to find that the collaborative environment at Maryland was such an integral part of grad school.”

While beginning graduate research, Guo also wanted to do community outreach. Guo learned about GRAD-MAP during his first year at UMD, when one of the organization’s leaders gave a presentation to the physics graduate students. GRAD-MAP is dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the fields of physics and astronomy. The organization strongly focuses on reaching out to students with backgrounds that are underrepresented in physics and astronomy and bringing them to UMD to share valuable experiences in the field. 

“We are grad students working to promote inclusive environments for fellow grad students, as well as increase the proportion of students who come from underrepresented minority backgrounds,” Guo said. 

GRAD-MAP organizes programs to give undergraduate students insight into the world of physics and astronomy research and help them develop useful skills. The organization runs a weeklong Winter Workshop where undergraduates tour scientific facilities, perform mini-research projects and develop skills, such as writing application essays and computer programing. GRAD-MAP also organizes a 10-weeks-long Summer Scholars Program where undergraduate students can build on the Winter Workshop skills with a full research project under the supervision of a mentor. GRAD-MAP has worked with students from nearby institutions like Prince George’s Community College, Montgomery College and Howard University, as well as students from across the U.S. and outside the country.

Guo’s first January at UMD, he taught the programming language Python at the Winter Workshop. He said he was inspired by the students and kept teaching programing as part of GRAD-MAP. He eventually worked his way up to leading the entire Python portion of the workshop.

“For these students to learn programming, I think is pretty significant because it gives them a playground to test their ideas,” Guo said. “And it's very good practical training for them, regardless of what career they pursue in the future, be it physics or astronomy grad school or even a career as a software engineer.” 

In the fall of 2019, he became the physics co-lead of GRAD-MAP. Then, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, he had to pivot the program. The GRAD-MAP graduate students transitioned their outreach events online for their 2020 and 2021 Winter Workshops and 2020 Summer Scholars Program.

“A lot of credit goes to my fellow graduate colleagues who really stepped up,” Guo said. “The biggest challenge was to replicate that sense of community online, without leading to basically Zoom fatigue and burnout among the students. I think the students really were the ones who put in the most heroic effort—just going through enduring and then sticking with us as we performed this huge experiment that everybody was doing at that time.”


Andrew Guo and his co-leads Milena Crnogorčević and Charlotte Ward on a video chat with five participants of the 2021 Summer Scholars Program. Andrew Guo and his co-leads Milena Crnogorčević and Charlotte Ward on a video chat with five participants of the 2021 Summer Scholars Program. Despite the additional stress, Guo fondly recalled a GRAD-MAP video chat event where the Winter Workshop participants could show off talents, like playing an instrument, or share other things they cared about, like a participant discussing their plant terrarium. Guo said seeing both the engagement and lasting impact on the students from the program was very fulfilling.

During his time at UMD, Guo also joined communities outside of GRAD-MAP and his lab group. Throughout his time at UMD he lived with other physicists. 

“It was definitely a uniquely collaborative, uniquely enriching experience for me,” Guo said. “Throughout COVID not being able to see your coworkers in person made this all the more valuable because you could have informal conversations.”

He also played the cello as a member of the UMD Repertoire Orchestra (now rebranded as the University Orchestra), which is open to members of the campus community, including students from non-music degree programs. He said participating in that creative expression was a nice pressure valve.

Next, Guo will be joint a new community at Sandia National Laboratories as a postdoctoral researcher and said he hopes to participate in outreach efforts there. 


Story by Bailey Bedford

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From Physics to Pharma

Sylvie Ryckebusch (B.S. ’87, physics; B.S. ’87, mathematics) has never underestimated the value—or the challenges—of earning a physics degree.

“I think physics is the hardest subject really,” she explained. “It trains your problem-solving skills, the way you think and learning to work on difficult things. When you’ve spent years studying physics, I think it trains you well for many other lines of work.”Sylvie RyckebuschSylvie Ryckebusch

Ryckebusch applied these skills on a rewarding academic and professional path that took her from the research lab to the business world, and from the U.S. to Europe and beyond. Over the past 20 years, she built an impressive track record leading business development for biotech and pharmaceutical companies, negotiating complex research collaborations and licensing transactions, and specializing in everything from partnerships and corporate strategy to helping bring new therapeutics to market. 

Today, as chief business officer at BioInvent International in Lund, Sweden, Ryckebusch supports the company’s efforts to develop new antibody drugs for the treatment of cancer. And though she didn’t exactly plan it this way, she’s exactly where she wants to be.

“People always ask me, ‘How did you organize your career to end up in business development?’ because that’s a place where a lot of people want to be—in the pharma industry, and most particularly, in business development” she said. “Honestly it was mostly happenstance. One thing led to another and another and I ended up here, although what was important in making these career choices was the self-awareness along the way about what kind of work and environment I enjoyed.”

European roots and a strong work ethic

Growing up in Howard County, Maryland, Ryckebusch always felt a strong connection to her European roots. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from France before she was born. 

“My mother was a secretary at the World Bank and my father was a chef,” she explained. “He grew up during the war in very difficult times in northern France and had to be pulled out of school early to help support the family, so he became an apprentice in a restaurant. When I was growing up, he was working around the Washington area as a chef and had his own restaurant for a time in Ellicott City.”

With many of her relatives still living in France, Ryckebusch decided to spend her high school years there. Fluent in French, she was interested in many subjects, but her teachers pushed her to pursue her strengths in mathematics.

“If you’re good at science, people aren’t going to tell you that you should study English literature,” Ryckebusch said. “I was always good at math and science and in the schools in France, if you’re good in math they tell you that’s what you’ve got to do, they push you.”

Ryckebusch returned to the U.S. after high school and began college at the University of Maryland in 1983, taking on the challenges of a double degree in mathematics and physics. Raised with a strong work ethic, she was driven to keep doing more. 

“I made it really hard for myself,” she admitted. “I skipped the first-year courses, which I probably shouldn’t have done and I did a double-degree program, which would have been a five-year program, but I did it in four years. So, what I remember most from my UMD time is working really hard.”

In those intense academic years, Ryckebusch spent her summers working with a low-temperature physics group at Bell Labs. After graduating from UMD in 1987, she moved on to a Ph.D. program in computation and neural systems at Caltech. 

“My focus was understanding the control of locomotion by the neural system,” she explained. “I was, on the one side, building integrated circuits, transistors and capacitors, the circuits that modeled certain behaviors of neurons in the brain, and in parallel, I was doing actual experiments to identify neuronal circuits involved in locomotor functions.”

After earning her Ph.D. in 1994, and a postdoctoral fellowship at Brandeis University, Ryckebusch was ready for something new. 

“I had to weigh doing academic science for a career or at least the next six or seven years or starting something different, and I thought, I want a change,” she explained. “I like variety and I wanted to be in the real world, though I wasn’t really sure what the real world was.”

Encouraged by a friend, Ryckebusch joined the Harvard Business School as a postdoctoral researcher. There, she investigated business operations, developing case studies on companies all over the world, some of which are still taught at HBS today.

“I went to Japan, to Israel, all over the place, exploring particular issues related to businesses and the organization of their work and writing these up in case studies,” she recalled. “It was different and it was fun, and I fell into it very easily.”

From case studies to consulting

In 1996, Ryckebusch’s academic background, business research at Harvard and fluency in French helped her land a management consulting position at the Paris office of global consultants McKinsey & Company. The experience helped strengthen her skill set in corporate strategy and business development, but after four years, she realized she missed working with scientists and the intricacies of scientific problem-solving.

“I thought this has been fun and I learned so much, but it was very hard work and not really who I was” Ryckebusch explained. “I wanted to get back into a career closer to science.”

Hoping to apply her experience in both science and business, Ryckebusch joined Serono, a large Geneva, Switzerland-based biotech firm. She quickly realized it was the right place at the right time.

“I ended up in the very best possible place for me and I loved it,” she recalled. “You’re negotiating partnerships and alliances—pharma-pharma, pharma-biotech, biotech-academia alliances—and you have to have a good grasp of the science because you’re working on drug development. It was a business role that I’m still doing today over 20 years later.”

Pharmaceutical giant Merck eventually acquired Serono and shut down its Geneva office, but by then Ryckebusch had three kids in school and didn’t want to uproot her family. So, in 2012, she started her own consulting business. Based in Geneva, she worked with pharma and biotech clients, even finding time to teach a graduate-level pharmaceutical business development course at the Grenoble Ecole de Management.  

Then in early 2020, one of Ryckebusch’s clients, BioInvent, suggested that she join them full time as chief business officer.

“BioInvent is a super company, with very high quality science and promising therapeutic drug candidates. I was doing more and more work with them, and they said, ‘Why don’t you join us,’ and it just made sense,” Ryckebusch recalled. “So that’s what I’m doing now.”

Part of a bigger mission

As BioInvent’s chief business officer, Ryckebusch works remotely from her home in Geneva, leading business development efforts, building partnerships and research collaborations for drug development, as well as supporting the investor-backed company with financing and company strategy.

“It costs $800 or $900 million to develop a pharmaceutical product, so biotechs almost never take them to market on their own, you have to partner with a big pharma at some point,” she explained. “There’s a whole strategy around how you partner, when you partner and with whom.”

Ryckebusch takes pride in her role as part of BioInvent’s scientific work in cancer therapeutics. But she’s quick to note that she’s just one small part of a much bigger mission.

“I enjoy that feeling of collectively bringing something forward—we’re all cogs in a wheel,” she explained. “In the pharma industry, it takes 15 to 20 years to develop a drug and a lot of people like me contribute along the way.”

For Ryckebusch, making that kind of contribution means everything.

“It’s all about finding great drugs and developing them and pushing the frontiers of the science,” she reflected. “I really hope one of BioInvent’s products makes it to the market. I would be proud to be able to say a little bit of that came from me.”