Bette Korber, a Laboratory fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has just been honored by her doctoral alma mater, the California Institute of Technology, as one of three distinguished alumni for 2022. The Distinguished Alumni Award is Caltech's highest honor, presented each year to a small number of alumni in recognition of personal and professional accomplishments that have made notable impacts in a field, the community or society.
“Bette has made groundbreaking and internationally recognized contributions to theoretical biology through decades of impactful research on HIV and most recently COVID-19,” said Thom Mason, Laboratory director. “Her efforts have brought visibility and recognition to the Laboratory, and we congratulate her on this well-deserved honor.”
Korber joins 274 other Caltech alumni honored with this award since the awards began in 1966.
“The Institute’s contributions to society are due in large part to its alumni,” said Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum. He adds that their “leadership in high-risk, high-payoff endeavors exemplifies the essence of their Caltech training. This year’s roster of Distinguished Alumni awardees cuts across sectors of society, but they remain connected by their intellectual depth, ambition and impact.”
Korber (PhD ‘88) is a fellow in theoretical biology and biophysics at Los Alamos. She has made significant achievements in virology research and computational vaccine design, fighting diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and she continues to equip the scientific community with insights into HIV and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
“I'm greatly honored by this year's award,” Korber said. “This award means so much to me. My career has been fraught with challenges, but getting recognized by Caltech, the amazing institution where I learned both to see the beauty in scientific understanding of our world, as well as how to practice science professionally, leaves me deeply grateful and inspired to keep trying.”
Korber has broken new ground in bioinformatics, viral evolution, vaccine design and SARS-CoV-2 genomic monitoring. She increased understanding of the early history of HIV in Africa and pioneered computational vaccine designs that confer protection in animal models against HIV, influenza and filoviruses.
Her HIV mosaic vaccine design is currently being tested in a large-scale clinical trial in the Americas. She also led the Los Alamos-hosted HIV database project, an effort that provides a comprehensive collection of HIV sequence data to the global scientific community.
Postponing retirement in 2020 to study SARS-CoV-2, she soon demonstrated that the virus was rapidly evolving to become more infectious, a discovery that has since been cited thousands of times. She currently leads the COVID-19 Viral Genome Analysis Pipeline, which provides analyses and tools for exploring accruing mutations in hCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) geographically and over time, with an emphasis on the Spike protein.
Her numerous honors include the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, the Department of Energy's highest scientific honor, and both the Laboratory's Richard P. Feynman Innovation Prize and Los Alamos Medal, the Lab’s highest honor. She is also a singer-songwriter, and her song “Veneration” recently won a 2022 New Mexico Music Award in the World Music category.