DR. MARY ANN WU '83
Dr. Mary Ann Wu (nee Perozzo) earned her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from UW-Parkside in 1983. While attending UW-Parkside, she entered the laboratory of Dr. Keith Ward, studying proteins of bioluminescent organisms, including jellyfish and fireflies, using X-ray diffraction crystallography. Besides becoming familiar with crystallography research, the experience provided a wide range of opportunities, including appointments in the laboratories of Dr. Bruce Branchini, UW-Parkside and Dr. Paul Sigler, University of Chicago, several jellyfish collection trips to Friday Harbor Laboratory in the Puget Sound, and opportunities to attend national conferences of the American Crystallographic Association. She was a co-founder of the Chemistry Club. Upon graduation, she remained at Parkside for a year to teach freshmen chemistry labs and continue crystallography research.
When her mentor, Keith Ward, moved to the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, Mary Ann was accepted to a position in his laboratory. The group focused on the study of a wide range of proteins, including snake venom toxins, bioluminescent proteins, and factors involved in blood coagulation. They developed a laboratory robot to automate the preparation and monitoring of protein crystal experiments, a critical bottleneck in crystallographic research, and studied protein crystal growth through imaging with atomic force microscopy and in microgravity, flying experiments aboard the Space Shuttle. While at the Naval Research Lab, Dr. Wu earned her doctorate degree in Chemistry from The Catholic University of America in 1997. For her thesis work, she determined the crystal structure of the native Aequorea aequorea Green Fluorescent Protein, an important genetic marker.
In 2001, Dr. Wu chose to stay home to care for her son Matthew for five years, enjoying the time as an officer of the Mom’s Club and doing consulting work for a museum exhibit. She earned a secondary school teaching certification in 2007, returning to work to teach high school chemistry, biology and physical science for two years, before moving on to teach a semester of Chemistry 102 at Frederick Community College while also renovating and managing a rental property.
In 2009 she accepted a position as a Program Officer at the National Center for Research Resources, one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that comprises the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Dr. Wu managed the small business grant program and a portfolio of research resource grants for structural biology, including X-ray crystallography synchrotron beam lines and cryoelectron microscopy centers. She moved to her current position at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences when the NIH reorganized in 2011. She currently co-coordinates the trans-NIH Common Fund program for Transformative Cryoelectron Microscopy and directs the NIGMS Mature Synchrotron Resource program, as well as managing a portfolio of structural biology technology development grants.
Mary Ann and her husband Chia Kuei (a.k.a. Edward) Wu live in Rockville, MD. They have one son, a Junior at the University of Maryland. She enjoys playing Catan, hiking, bike riding and gardening in her spare time.
Reflecting on UW-Parkside
Why did you decide to attend UW-Parkside?
I always planned to go to college. Parkside was both a convenient and an economical choice, as I grew up on the north side of Kenosha.
What activities were you involved in at UW-Parkside?
I was active in the Outdoor Recreational Club and a founding member of the Chemistry Club. I worked part-time jobs on campus, first shelving books in the library, then tutoring physics and chemistry, and finally working in the laboratories of Dr. Keith Ward and Dr. Bruce Branchini, studying bioluminescent proteins from fireflies and jellyfish.
How did your UW-Parkside experience impact your professional or personal life?
My experiences at Parkside have interwoven throughout my life’s opportunities. The experiences I had in undergraduate research in the laboratory of Dr. Keith Ward and my degree in chemistry paved the way for me to pursue an advanced degree in structural biology. It also was the way I met my husband, who was studying the same protein as I was, and when we met in Seattle, he offered to take me out to dinner as a sort of apology for working on the same project. And finally, my current position at NIH was the result of reconnecting with my Parkside Physical Chemistry professor, Mike Marron, who was a Division Director for Biomedical Technology at the National Center for Research Resources.
Professional and Personal Highlights
What has been one of the top highlights of your career?
I have been very fortunate to have had some great opportunities in my career, which have spanned diverse areas including biological research, teaching science and managing research grants. A big thrill was conducting protein crystal growth experiments that flew aboard the space shuttles. We were able to watch the shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral and learned important information about how crystal growth is influenced by gravity. As a high school science teacher, the highlight of any day was seeing the “eureka” moments, when students would “get it”, whether that concept was how electrical circuits worked, how to balance a chemical equation, or how to measure kinetic energy. One time I remember a lab where I sacrificed a half-dozen light bulbs because a student who normally was not easy to engage was having a blast making circuits with baIeries in series that would burn the bulbs so brightly they burned out; he’ll never forget how that works. At NIH, I have had the good fortune to work with some of the most creative and brilliant scientists in structural biology, managing their grants and programs for crystallography and cry-electron microscopy. Recent advances in the development of cryoelectron microscopy now make it one of the most powerful tools for the study of molecular structure, such as SARS-CoV-2, and the interiors of cells. Many of the new detectors, computer algorithms and automated workflows that make these advances possible were the direct result of grant funding that I manage. Opening up the National Centers for Cryoelectron Microscopy so scientists across the country have free access to these expensive technologies has been a big thrill, and I am fortunate to have been able to contribute to the process.
Who has had the biggest influence on your life or your career and why?
There are many mentors who have positively influenced my life and career, but the person who has had the biggest influence on my path would have to be my mother, Dorothy Perozzo. She was a smart, compassionate and independent woman who was quietly successful at whatever she undertook. She was originally trained as a teacher, then later worked as a reference librarian. In both instances she enjoyed teaching. She had a lifelong love of reading and books, and instilled these passions in her children, along with a sense that we could do anything to which we set our minds. It was with that attitude that I continued my studies after high school, and confidently undertook each chapter of my career, whether it was as a researcher in the Naval Research Laboratory, a mom at home with my son for five years, a high school and college teacher, or a program officer managing a porgolio of grants. I am thankful for her example and direction.
What are your favorite hobbies?
Currently I have enjoyed learning to garden along with engineering constant improvements to my garden space. There have been challenges: I have to defend against deer, overcome poor clay soil and pests, and manage garden beds on a hill. The deer are kept at bay with fencing, raised beds are leveling out the ground, and I am very proud of the door I designed with PVC pipe and zip ties. This years’ produce included many green beans, five big tomatoes and three zucchini. Next year will be even better.
What is something that would surprise us about you?
I didn’t own a car until I was 23, preferring the bicycle as primary mode of transportation.
Advice from Mary Ann
What advice do you have for current UW-Parkside Students?
Take advantage of the many opportunities to work with professors and mentors on campus. Explore diverse areas of study and find out what you love learning and doing. Then pursue those areas as a way to have a fulfilling life instead of taking a job just to make a living.