CMB alum Nels Elde wins MacArthur Genius Grant

Nels Elde

When Nels Elde, Cell and Molecular Biology PhD’05, arrived at the University of Chicago in 1998, he found himself in an exciting research environment—one that combined an “incredible tradition of academics” with an amazing group of collaborators in his fellow graduate students. 

But it wasn’t just UChicago’s reputation as a research powerhouse that bolstered Elde’s scientific career. In the lab of his graduate advisor, Prof. Aaron Turkewitz, he also found the space to have fun.

“In Aaron’s lab, it wasn’t just great science; it was also creative science,” said Elde, now an evolutionary biologist at the University of Utah, where he is an associate professor of human genetics. “He encouraged us to follow our curiosity and have fun. Aaron is also a skilled artist and potter. It was a really inspirational, foundational lesson about mixing art and science that taught me how to center creativity in my work.”

Elde researched the evolution of cellular mechanisms across different species. Now, 15 years later, his innovative approach to research has landed him a MacArthur Fellowship, which provides a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits. 

Elde’s dissertation research at the University was focused on understanding how distantly related species evolved unique solutions to solve similar cellular problems, looking far out on the branches of the evolutionary tree to combine cell biology with evolutionary genetics.

Continue reading the full story by Alison Caldwell (Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)


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