Winner Profile: David Sivak

Early Career Investigator Award Profile

David Sivak

2021 Award Recipient

Dr. David Sivak has been chosen by the Biophysical Society of Canada to be the recipient of the 2021 Young Investigator Award. He was selected in recognition of his cutting edge, transformative and interdisciplinary research in the field of nonequilibrium statistical biophysics, only eight years removed from his first independent position (as a Systems Biology Fellow at the Center for Systems & Synthetic Biology at UC San Francisco) and six years into his first permanent academic position at SFU.

Dr. Sivak’s recent work touches on the way fluctuation-dominated biomolecular machines operate and how they can achieve efficient energy transduction These fundamentally nonequilibrium questions are of course extremely complex and require novel ways of thinking and novel theoretical tools – which is exactly where Dr. Sivak’s work comes in. Compared to that of many in the field, his work stands out because it is strongly focused on bridging the gap between theory and experiments, by guiding the design of experiments to explore or manipulate molecular systems. His work opens a way to a full understanding of the inner working of molecular machines, and might also bring answers to fundamental questions about the evolutionary optimization of biomolecule structure and function. Perhaps most exciting of all, it might provide guidance for the design of new bio-inspired synthetic machines.

Dr. Sivak received an A.B. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard (2000) and a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics & Economics from Oxford (2003), before turning his attention to Biophysics during his PhD at UC Berkeley. There he worked with Dr. Phillip Geissler on conformational fluctuations of DNA molecules. He started working on nonequilibrium statistical mechanics in 2009, during post-doctoral work with Dr. Gavin Crooks at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Dr. Sivak was appointed as an Assistant Professor at SFU in 2014, where he is a member or associate member of no less than three departments: Physics, Chemistry and Molecular Biology & Biochemistry. Since 2016, he has held a Tier II Canada Research Chair in nonequilibrium statistical biophysics. He also very recently received a Discovery Accelerator Supplement from NSERC and was just promoted to Associate Professor. Since moving to SFU, he has already proven a wonderful mentor to a large and diverse group of undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students. Under his direction, his trainees have contributed several important bodies of work, for example showing that molecular machines can achieve efficient energy transduction by strategically distributing energy dissipation over their cycle, or demonstrating the best way to efficiently unfold a folded biomolecule.