Winter 2008

On Henry Mall

Genetics researcher Ahna Skop observes the earliest stages of life with an artist's eye.


When Ahna Skop PhD’00 got a letter from the White House in fall 2006, she first thought it was a prank. “It said they needed information for an FBI security check, and it asked for my Social Security number,” says the assistant professor of genetics. “That kind of makes you suspicious.”

Skop complied anyway, and she’s glad she did. This past November, she was a guest at the White House to accept a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering, one of the top prizes given to young researchers. This year, 58 scientists were tabbed for the honor, which carries five years of federal research support—and a nice photo op with President Bush.

Skop earned the recognition for her pioneering work on cell division, a fundamental but still little-understood process by which all living things grow. Her lab has identified nearly 100 proteins involved when cells divide, which could aid the treatment of birth defects or cancer, where cells often fail to divide properly.

She also won praise for an unconventional approach that unites art and science. The daughter of a sculptor and an art teacher, Skop has a ceramics degree and creates spectacular works of scientific art. Her brightly colored images of cells have been shown at international conferences. Currently, they decorate the walls of the genetics building.

“I think it is important for the public to see how beautiful what we work on is,” she says.

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