Physical and Biological Sciences Division honors three prominent alumni

PBSci Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize contributions to society by graduate and undergraduate alums

Laura Helmuth
Pamela Silver
David Sofen

Washington Post editor Laura Helmuth, bioengineer Pamela Silver, and urgent care specialist David Sofen, M.D., are being honored by the UC Santa Cruz Division of Physical and Biological Sciences (PBSci) as the recipients of the PBSci Distinguished Alumni Awards.

The division established the awards to honor graduates of the division who have gone on to extraordinary accomplishments in diverse fields and whose careers are characterized by sustained and exemplary contributions to society through research, practice, education, policy, or service.

Laura Helmuth

Helmuth earned a graduate certificate in science communication at UC Santa Cruz in 1998 and is now the health, science, and environment editor for the Washington Post, managing a team of a dozen reporters and three editors. She has also been an editor for National Geographic, Slate, Smithsonian, and Science magazines, and a freelance writer or editor for the New York Times, Nautilus, National Wildlife, Stanford Medicine, and other publications.

Helmuth was president of the National Association of Science Writers from 2016 to 2018, and she is a member of the standing committee on advancing science communication research and practice of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. She earned a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience at UC Berkeley before starting her science writing career at the UCSC Science Communication Program. She returns to campus regularly to guest lecture in the science writing program and mentor students.

Pamela Silver

Silver, a pioneer in the fields of systems biology, synthetic biology, and bioengineering, earned her B.A. in chemistry at UC Santa Cruz in 1974 and her Ph.D. in biological chemistry at UCLA. She is currently the Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and a founding core faculty member of Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Silver's lab is building synthetic cells that act as sensors, memory devices, bio-computers, and producers of high value commodities and energy from the sun. Among her most recent innovations are bacteria that can sense and respond to gut inflammation and the Bionic Leaf, which couples sunlight capture to bio-production at an efficiency exceeding plants. A founder and board member of the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation, she has been named one of the top 20 "global synthetic biology influencers."

David Sofen

Dr. Sofen, who earned his bachelor's degree in biology at UC Santa Cruz in 1979, is an urgent care doctor in Santa Cruz and medical director of patient experience for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. He graduated from UCSF School of Medicine in 1983 and did his residency at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas.

Dr. Sofen credited a UCSC internship in Guatemala with inspiring his career in medicine, and he has worked as a medical volunteer in developing countries. In 2018, he made his sixth trip to rural southeast Haiti with the nonprofit Flying Doctors (Los Medicos Voladores), working with a team of other medical professionals and interpreters to treat people who have little or no access to health care.

The PBSci distinguished alumni will be honored at an awards dinner on Friday, April 26. Helmuth will be among the five graduate alumni honored at the Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni Award Luncheon on Saturday, April 27. The luncheon will be followed by a Career Paths Panel during which the honorees will share their experiences and discuss their career trajectories.