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Michael W. Deem

MDeem_WebJohn W. Cox Professor in Biochemical and Genetic Engineering
Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Founding Director, Ph.D. Program in Systems, Synthetic, and
Physical Biology (SSPB)

Deem Group 

Postdoctoral Fellow, Physics, Harvard University (1995-1996)
Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, University of California at Berkeley (1994)
B.S., with honors, Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology (1991)

Bio Sketch

Michael W. Deem works in the area of evolution, immunology, and materials. He has brought tools from statistical physics to bear on problems in these areas. Of particular focus to him are those biological issues involving randomness, diversity, and correlations.

Deem has developed methods to quantify vaccine effectiveness and antigenic distance for influenza, methods to sculpt the immune system to mitigate immunodominance in dengue fever, a physical theory of the competition that allows HIV to escape from the immune system, and the first exact solution of a mathematical model of evolution that accounts for cross-species genetic exchange. Deem has also developed a theory that relates modularity to time-dependent performance in evolving biological systems, which he recently used to predict and explain the experimentally observed relation between modularity and task-complexity-dependent cognitive performance in humans.

In the materials field, Deem is interested in structure, nucleation, and function of zeolites. Deem developed the widely-used DIFFAX and ZEFSA methods in this area. Deem provided the first atomistic simulations of silica nucleation under zeolite synthesis conditions and has developed a database of hypothetical zeolite frameworks that contains greater than 3 million structures.

This research has led to 15 U.S. patents and 8 international patents. Deem is the recipient of a number of awards, including the NSF CAREER Award (1997), Top 100 Young Innovator, MIT's Technology Review (1999), Alfred P. Sloan Fellow (2000), the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2002), Allan P. Colburn Award (2004), Vaughan Lectureship, California Institute of Technology (2007), the Professional Progress Award of the AIChE (2010), and the O'Donnell Award from the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (2012). Deem was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar during the 2012-2013 academic year.

Deem is a member of the editorial board of Protein Engineering, Design and Selection; Physical Biology; and Bioengineering & Translational Medicine. He is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2005), the American Physical Society (2005), the Biomedical Engineering Society (2009), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011). He has served on the Biomedical Engineering Society’s Board of Directors (2005-2008); the Nominating Committee of the Division of Biological Physics, American Physical Society (2007); Rice Senate (2006-2009); the Board of Governors, Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter (2007-present); and as the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Representative on the FASEB Publications and Communications Committee (2009-2012).

Research Statement

Ongoing areas of investigation in the Deem Group include

  • Immune response to variable or multi-strain viruses and vaccines,
  • Physical theories of pathogen evolution,
  • Vaccine design,
  • Newton's laws for biology, and
  • Structure, nucleation, and function of zeolites.

Research in the Deem Group is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation.