Michael W. Deem is a nationally respected scientist, researcher, and engineer. Growing up in New Jersey as the son of a chemical engineer and a lab chemist, Deem had a passion for science that was fostered from the start. Deem started on his career path early, earning a first place finish at his school’s physics science league and a second place finish in the state’s chemistry league. Deem’s early success with science in academia, combined with his family’s passion for the topic, encouraged the beginnings of a long and prosperous investment into the scientific community, higher education, and research development.
Growing up, exercise and quality time with family came together with annual hiking trips along the Appalachian Trail in Vermont and New Hampshire. Deem’s family maintain a passion for bonding over the outdoors and harbouring a deep appreciation for nature.
Higher education was always something Deem looked forward to achieving. After a cross-country move for school, he attended California Institute of Technology in 1991 where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering degree.
Armed with his bachelor’s degree, Deem traveled upstate to earn his Ph.D in Chemical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1994. While at UC Berkeley, Deem invested his research energy into his graduating thesis paper on statistical mechanics and disordered materials.
Next step on Deem’s education journey came with another trip across the U.S., landing him in Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Harvard University. From 1995-1996, Deem completed his study fellowship with the Harvard physics department.
Deem began his investment into academics with an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering position at University of California, Los Angeles in 1996. Deem’s time as a professor quickly brought to light a passion and conviction for helping students and fostering each student’s success in life and in their study.
In 2002, Deem transferred his experience in the academic field to Houston, Texas. This move gave Deem the opportunity to become a John W. Cox Professor of Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and a Professor of Physics & Astronomy at Rice University. During his time at Rice, Deem invested in the further education of his students by pioneering the Physical Biology, System Biology, and Synthetic Biology postgraduate programs at the University.
In 2014, Rice University gave Deem the honor of becoming the Chair of the Bioengineering department. During his time as chair, Deem increased the scientific facility by over 50%, doubled the department’s research budget, and created a new graduate study program that encompassed 9 departments and 2 universities, and had 40 faculty members working within it. Deem remained chair of the Bioengineering department until 2020.
While still investing in his students and his commitment to academics, Deem also dedicated time, efforts, and discovery to the scientific community throughout his career.
The Scientific Advisory Board of Sengnet welcomed Deem as a member from 2002-2003. His time on the advisory board resulted in the development of financial modeling software that was later sold to Clarifi for $40 million.
Deem was added to the Board of Directors of the Biomedical Engineering Society from 2005-2008. His time was spent promoting the future of the society within the scientific community, contributing to improvements in academic curriculum, and growing the society’s member list.
From 2008-2010, Deem joined Ion Torrent Systems on their Scientific Advisory Board. During his time, Deem performed all original feasibility calculations for the development of NextGen sequencing. NextGen sequencing was later sold to Thermo Fisher in 2014 for $2.3 billion. Deem recalls this development as one of the defining accomplishments in his scientific career.
Deem later became the founder and CEO of an energy services provider based in Houston, Texas, Certus LLC. He is still heavily invested in Certus LLC today.
Deem’s research, known as FunBio, spent a decade discovering ways mathematics, chemistry, and biology combine in the formation of molecular structure. This line of research later found that variations in environmental pressure can promote the spontaneous formation of modular structure, with a proportionality constant that depends on the ruggedness of the fitness landscape.
As he moved into healthcare, Deem began studying the natural variations in biological patterns within the body and how they can help health care professionals anticipate changes in future health. By studying the data-collection techniques in predictive meteorology, Deem worked to understand how to anticipate when the human body will deviate from its typical biological patterns.
These discoveries can aid healthcare professionals in predicting when care will be needed and anticipating when a patient might be nearing a health change.
Thermodynamics of Pathogen Evolution
By studying the Eigen model by Luca Peliti, Deem worked to further understand the correlation between temperature and pathogen evolution. With evaluation of the thermo-link between energy and replication rate, mutation rate and temperature, and population size and temperature, Deem was able to identify a pathogen before it became dominant by immune pressure at the sequence level and molecular level. Pathology researchers can use this method to determine the most effective vaccine for a strain of pathogen.
In addition to his previous research on pathogen evolution, Deem helped develop the NK (GNK) model of protein evolution. The GNK model provides a way to record the formation of and interaction between secondary structures of a protein and identify an active or binding site in a protein.
By studying the variations between a vaccine and the pathogen it treats, pathologists can better understand the proposed effectiveness of a B cell vaccination. Pathologists now used this technique to identify effective vaccines for influenza H3N2, autoimmune diseases, and some cancers.
Deem’s research also moved beyond the biological realm to the business and manufacturing space. Deem contributed research on Zeolites, which are minerals typically found as adsorbents and catalyst products for commercial businesses. This study identified the DIFFAX and ZEFSA methods of solving zeolite crystal structures from powder diffusion data.
In addition, Deem and his team contributed a comprehensive database of over 4 million zeolite structures and their properties. Researchers and companies use this vast information today.
Deem has two beloved children who share his love of learning, growing, and fitness. Both of Deem’s children foster their athletic abilities on their local sports teams and love to grow their imaginations through reading.
On weekends and free afternoons, Deem can often be found at one of the many racetracks in Texas, or in Austin at the only F1 track in the U.S. Deem has had the privilege and pleasure of spending time learning from the Porsche Club of America. The club brings together those with a love of fast cars to discuss driving techniques, skills, and new developments in the car world.
Deem continues his love of the outdoors with rock climbing at the nearby Enchanted Rock climbing routes. Over the years of practice and dedication, Deem has achieved a 12a climbing level.
Through his work and life Deem has tried to maintain a focus on his love of science, his care for family, and his interest in furthering the scientific community. After a successful career in both research and academia, Deem hopes to leave a legacy for his contributions to research, science, and medicine and to have been a positive, guiding factor in the lives of the students he taught.