Graduate Robert Blackwell Earns APS Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award in Biological Physics

Published: March 21, 2017

Congratulations to PhD graduate Robert Blackwell for earning the 2016 Award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Research in Biological Physics.

“I'm honored to be in such amazing company. There isn't a much better feeling than giving your hard work to the scientific community.” Blackwell said, “Having that work recognized is almost surreal.”

Blackwell’s thesis explored the physical mechanisms underlying mitosis in fission yeast. “My focus was on a computational model for determining the mechanical roles of proteins during spindle formation,” Blackwell said.

According to their site, this APS award was established, “to recognize doctoral thesis research of outstanding quality and achievement in any area of experimental, computational, engineering, or theoretical Biological Physics, broadly construed, and to encourage effective written and oral presentation of research results.”

During his graduate work at CU Boulder, Blackwell conducted research in the Biophysics Group under Principal Investigators Meredith Betterton and Matt Glaser.

“I don't think I could have had more ideal advisors than Matt and Meredith. Most importantly, they both provided useful discussion, technical expertise and even experimental data whenever I needed. I always had the comfort and support needed to hash out ideas and discuss the next steps,” Blackwell said. “This is a gross oversimplification, but from a personality perspective, Matt really gave me the freedom to experiment and try the things I wanted to try and see what I could find. Meredith helped keep me focused and to do the most important things first.”

“This is fantastic news for Robert and we're very proud of him.” Professor Betterton said.

“Robert’s work on the fission yeast mitotic spindle was a tour de force of computational science, involving the design, implementation, optimization, and validation of a large and complex simulation code,” Professor Glaser said. “When I first met Robert, he had minimal exposure to computational physics and numerical methods, and a limited knowledge of biophysics and bioscience. Over the intervening years, I’ve seen him develop deep expertise in these areas, and he is well positioned to become a leader in the interdisciplinary intersection of statistical physics, biological physics, computational physics, numerical analysis, and computer science.”

After graduating from CU Boulder, Blackwell joined the Freiderich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nürnberg Institute of Theoretical Physics in Germany as a postdoctoral researcher.

As part of the award, Blackwell will deliver a presentation based on his thesis work during the 2018 APS March Meeting.

View the Award Page