David Van Valen (PhD '11), assistant professor of biology and biological engineering, has been named to the 2020 class of Rita Allen Foundation Scholars. The award is given to early-career biomedical scientists whose research "holds exceptional promise for revealing new pathways to advance human health," according to the foundation's press release.
Research in the Van Valen lab focuses on developing machine-learning methods for studying single cells and understanding interactions between viruses and their hosts. "Viruses are in constant conversation with the cells they infect, and the information exchanged can be used by the host or the virus to guide their respective behaviors," says Van Valen. "To understand how this happens, my lab combines ideas from cell biology and physics with recent advances in imaging, machine learning, and genomics to make novel measurements of host–virus interactions.
"Support from the Rita Allen Foundation will give us the freedom to pursue unconventional and exciting lines of research," Van Valen says. "One area I'm particularly excited about is the intersection between machine learning and experimental design. Can we use machine learning to design better experiments? I believe the answer is yes. With support from the Rita Allen Foundation, we will develop scalable methods to perturb living systems and image their responses, which will greatly increase the pace at which we can perform experiments."
Van Valen is also an affiliated faculty member with Caltech's Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience.