Distinguished Staff Award
Wai Pang Chan

Wai Pang Chan

Research Coordinator, Biology, College of Arts & Sciences, Division of Natural Science

Nominated by Barbara Wakimoto, Professor, Biology

Awarded 2018

Dear Distinguished Staff Award Committee:

As faculty who have known and worked with Pang from 3 years to nearly 25 years, we are jointly serving as lead nominators.

One of us (B. Wakimoto, Professor of Biology) knew Pang when he was a UW student. I have interacted with him extensively since 2004 when Biology hired him to run the Imaging Facility (IF), an interdepartmental center for light and electron microscopy. “Running the IF” might sound routine but how Pang does this is truly extraordinary and super high impact! Importantly, Pang opened the facility to researchers from all three UW campuses, providing access that to date has helped individuals from over 20 departments. Pang maintains the high-end equipment in tip-top shape. Whenever he can, he learns how to do the repairs himself to save the UW money. He trains undergrads, grads, postdocs, and faculty how to use sophisticated instruments. He trained five of my students and each time, I’ve joined the sessions because I always want to learn from him. Pang expertly explains principles behind the machines’ knobs and fancy lights. He teaches in a humble approachable fashion, so novices are comfortable asking questions and soon become experts who understand how the equipment works. Pang also keeps abreast of newest technologies. He organizes opportunities for us to try the latest and greatest new scopes on the market, and invites participation of all who are interested. He provides essential advice on new purchases and protocols. By communicating so well with researchers, Pang serves as the center of our imaging community and a nexus that connects UW groups. I am always impressed with the respect, kindness, and interest that Pang shows in his interactions. He answers questions and requests quickly, as if he’s on 24-hour call, and with an unmatched thoroughness, often with list of helpful resources, and always with a gentle sense of humor. Another exceptional characteristic is that he never settles for status quo. Pang is constantly listening, learning, and mastering complex technical information and shares his insight to benefit many. This year, UW will acquire two very expensive state-of-the-art microscopes. It would not have been possible to make these microscopes widely available to the UW community without Pang. The acquisition stage required that he work with individuals at all levels, positions, and with many different personalities. Because so many have confidence in his expertise and skills, Pang and his IF will continue to greatly expand exciting opportunities for UW researchers.

One of us (M. Bosma, Professor of Biology) is impressed with Pang’s incredible knowledge about imaging, including the physics and optics of many light AND electron microscopes! He understands the biological questions being addressed by researchers and is indeed, a University-wide resource. My lab uses the IF for both fixed and living tissue; each brings myriad, and different, issues. Pang helps us with simple problems, such as specimen stability, signal degradation, and choice of fluorophore, and technical issues such as non-linearity of cameras and lasers. He applies his considerable experience to any problem we ask of him, and always comes up with a solution, making our science proceed more quickly and accurately. He is flexible in the use of different configurations by each lab, and optimizes setups for each user. Frankly, Pang is the best IF manager possible, and my lab could not move our science forward without him.

One of us (C. Strömberg, Professor in Biology and Curator of Paleobotany) has known Pang since I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, where he was a key staff member in the Visualization Center. I often came to him–not seldom in desperation–with questions about a wide variety of microscopy and computing challenges. He was always so incredibly helpful, applying his ingenuity to the most trivial problems, and cracking the most difficult imaging/microscopy/computer nuts that I struggled with. When hired at UW, I was thrilled to learn that I’d be working with Pang again! In my time here, Pang has proven to be every bit as excellent at providing advice, helping to figure out difficult visualization problems, assisting in setting up good workflows, and giving access to equipment. Not just with me, but also my postdocs, grads, and undergrads. He has a true passion for his work, and it shows. I asked him about how to stain the microfossils that I work with, and he did a bunch of research on my behalf, just because he was curious! The best part is, Pang is always so calm, patient, and friendly, regardless of my stress level, meaning that working with him is also therapeutic–it calms me down!

One of us (L. Wordeman, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics) first met Pang when he trained me to operate the IF’s microscopes. I was impressed with his skill and sensitivity in managing the instruments, especially how he listens to the microscopes to monitor how they are running. He is extremely responsive. His emails keeps users updated on instrument status on a regular basis. No other imaging facility that I have encountered (and I have used a few in my 30-odd years of imaging) has been run so efficiently and in such a responsive and communicative manner. Pang operates above and beyond the basic director requirements. It is not trivial to learn to operate and make the best use of these instruments to further the UW research mandate. Pang’s patient knowledgeable guidance enables students, staff and faculty to access and use these instruments. For these reasons, when I wrote an NIH proposal for a super-resolution microscope I organized the proposal around administration by Biology’s IF with Pang as the Administrative Director. One must justify instrument need based on requirements of scientific projects. That is generally the easiest part. What tends to make or break successful funding is the administration plan to ensure full access to as many researchers as possible. This is where Pang’s experience and technical prowess was key in ensuring successful funding. Pang has taken a Super-Resolution Microscopy course run by Chemistry Professor Josh Vaughan. And he has extensive experience running the IF to provide expertise and well-maintained instruments on a modest fee for use basis. Pang was a joy to work with on the proposal. He was pro-active at supplying information and specifications. His skills were appreciated and noted by the NIH reviewers. Once we obtained the super-resolution microscope, Pang took the super-user training to learn to run and align the instrument and troubleshoot artifacts. He was very detail oriented and noticed elements that the company needed to address before we signed off on the instrument. He is the best person to ensure UW’s availability of cutting-edge super-resolution imaging capability. It continues to be a pleasure to work with him on the administration and operation of this high-end microscope. Pang’s guidance is essential in enabling our research community and diverse student body to take full advantage of the capability of the new microscope. He contributes top-notch light and electron microscopic expertise and patient guidance to keep UW investigators at the forefront of imaging research.

Thank you for reviewing the DSA nominations and for this opportunity to tell you why we and the UW community are incredibly lucky to have Pang as one of our own!

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