UC Berkeley researcher wins 2013 Vilcek Prize for biomedical research

Samantha Rosenbaum/Staff
UC Berkeley associate professor, Michael Rape was recognized for his efforts with the 2013 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science.

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Michael Rape began his career in the sciences experimenting with chemicals in the basement of his parent’s home in Germany more than 20 years ago.

Today, the UC Berkeley associate professor has continued with this line of research and last week was recognized for his efforts with the 2013 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science.

The award recognizes immigrant researchers under the age of 38 who have already demonstrated exceptional achievements. All three award winners received a $35,000 prize.

“(Rape) has made important contributions and has been a leader in his particular field of research,” said Jan Vilcek, president and co-founder of the Vilcek Foundation. “He has published some outstanding contributions in the most prestigious journals and has made all of these achievements at a young age.”

His current research focuses on ubiquitylation, which is a key regulator of proliferation and differentiation in all eukaryotes.

“Rape is a great researcher, a great teacher and has been able to get graduate students to do great work,” said UC Berkeley biology professor Iswar Hariharan. “This is what we expect a Cal professor to be, and he is everything.”

Born in Germany, Rape said he began to display an interest in sciences at a young age. His great-uncle owned a pharmacy, and his mother was heavily involved in the environmental movement at the time in Germany, which he said sparked his interest in the subject.

“I was never the kind of guy that built firecrackers,” Rape said. “I became interested in the biology of things very early on.”

Rape first came to the United States as an exchange student at the University of Delaware. In 2003, he was accepted into a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship at the department of systems biology at Harvard Medical School. After finishing the fellowship, Rape chose to come to UC Berkeley partly, he said, due to the opportunity to teach the sharp minds the university attracts.

“I get to work with extremely talented students that are very excited about what they are doing, and I think that is very rewarding,” Rape said.

Rape said he became interested in biomedical sciences due to its applicability in the real world.

“It is one of the few areas where you can combine research or science in a way to further knowledge, but at some point you can apply them to something important, for life, for actual people,” he said.

Bobby Saxton, a UC Berkeley senior and former student of Rape, credits Rape for inspiring him to pursue a career in biomedical research.  He currently works in Rape’s laboratory and views the award as well-deserved.

“It reflects the fact that he is a world-class scientist, and it also reflects well on the university, reinforcing the fact that UC Berkeley is a world-class research institution that can attract the most talented researchers like Dr. Rape,” Saxton said.

Andrea Guzman covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]