2013 Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering Awarded to Sixteen Researchers

October 17, 2013 (Los Altos, CA) – Today, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation named the 2013 Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering, recognizing 16 of the nation’s most innovative young scientists and engineers. Each Fellow will receive a grant of $875,000 over five years to pursue their research.

“The Packard Foundation believes deeply in the power of science and engineering research and is delighted to support these creative, young scientists. Their independent, exploratory research will generate new knowledge, spark fresh thinking and produce ideas that can improve the human condition,” said Lynn Orr, Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor at Stanford University, and Chairman of the Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel.

The Packard Foundation established the Fellowships program in 1988 to provide young scientists early in their careers with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields of study.  Each year, the Foundation invites 50 universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration.  The Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel, a group of 12 internationally-recognized scientists and engineers, evaluates the nominations and recommends Fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees.

The program was inspired by David Packard’s commitment to strengthen university-based science and engineering programs in the United States, recognizing that the success of the Hewlett-Packard Company, which he cofounded, was derived in large measure from the research and development in university laboratories.

“David Packard believed one of the best ways to make progress as a society and as a nation is to give talented people the resources they need to accomplish their work and then get out of the way to let them do it.  That’s what we try to do with the Fellowships program,” said Orr.

Packard Fellows must be faculty members who are eligible to serve as principal investigators engaged in research in the natural and physical sciences or engineering, and must be within the first three years of their faculty careers. Disciplines that are considered include physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, astronomy, computer science, earth science, ocean science, and all branches of engineering.

Over 25 years, the Foundation has awarded $330 million to support 505 scientists and engineers from 52 top national universities.  It is among the nation’s largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility on how the funding is used. Packard Fellows have gone on to receive many additional awards and honors, including the Nobel Prize in Physics; the Fields Medal; the MacArthur Fellowships; and elections to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

 

The recipients of the 2013 Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are:

Emily Balskus

Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University

Discipline: Chemistry

Balskus focuses her research on discovering, understanding, and manipulating chemical reactions performed by microorganisms.  By studying human-associated microbial communities and investigating microbial secondary metabolite biosynthesis, she plans to transform our knowledge of how microbes influence our health, how we treat disease, and how we make and discover drugs.

 

Mark Braverman

Department of Computer Science, Princeton University

Discipline: Computer/Information Sciences

Braverman’s research focuses on theoretical computer science and its connections to areas outside of computer science. He is particularly interested in links to problems in economics, electrical engineering, operations research, and mathematics. These connections lead to new insights both in these disciplines and within core computer science.

 

Charlie Conroy

Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz

Discipline: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology

Conroy is interested in understanding how galaxies form and evolve by studying their stellar populations.   He is developing new tools to measure the properties of stars in distant galaxies, and is building a new framework to connect the life cycles of stars, elements, and galaxies.

 

Felix Fischer

Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

Discipline: Chemistry

While macroscopic objects largely obey classical physics, the laws of quantum mechanics determine the properties and function of nanometer scale objects. Fischer’s research group strives to understand, control, and harness the exceptional properties emerging from nanoscale carbon-based materials by developing a suite of novel synthetic strategies that offer an unprecedented atomically precise control over length, width, symmetry, and electronic structure.

 

Jacob Fox

Department of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Discipline: Mathematics

Much of the world can be described as networks, consisting of discrete elements with connections between certain pairs of them. Fox works on developing powerful techniques to solve problems concerning large networks. This research is at the interface between combinatorics and computer science, geometry, analysis, and number theory.

 

Elad Harel

Department of Chemistry, Northwestern University

Discipline: Chemistry

Harel develops optical techniques that can observe the molecular choreography that drives biological processes, such as protein motion, with unprecedented temporal and spatial resolution, and to thereby inform design principles for the development of artificial materials with tailored functionality.

 

Liang Jiang

Department of Applied Physics, Yale University

Discipline: Physics

Jiang explores approaches to efficiently build large-scale quantum systems that can overcome quantum decoherence with current technology. In addition, he incorporates novel topological quantum systems into quantum information processing to achieve intrinsic fault tolerance. Overcoming quantum decoherence will benefit fundamental research and trigger breakthroughs in new technologies.

 

Samuel Lai

Division of Molecular Pharmaceutics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Discipline: Biological Sciences

By merging biophysics and immunology, Lai’s lab is investigating how antibodies secreted into mucus may interact with mucus constituents to reinforce the body’s first line of defense against pathogens.  The goal is to harness these insights to engineer next generation antibodies and vaccines for improved protection and therapy at mucosal surfaces.

 

Yunsun Nam

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Department of Biophysics, University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center

Discipline: Biochemistry

Most of the human genome is used as template for RNA synthesis, but only a minute portion of the RNAs code for protein. Nam’s goal is to elucidate the mechanisms of biogenesis, function, and regulation of non-coding RNAs, through biochemical and structural probing of RNA-protein interactions.

 

Vasilii Petrenko

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Rochester

Discipline: Geosciences

Petrenko’s research uses novel, high-precision measurements of carbon-14 in carbon monoxide from ice cores to estimate the change in the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere since before the Industrial Revolution. Atmospheric oxidizing capacity controls the amount of warming that can result from emission of greenhouse gases such as methane.

 

June Round

Division of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Utah

Discipline: Biological Sciences

Humans are home to symbiotic microorganisms that are crucial for health. Research shows that a disruption to these communities results in disease, highlighting the need for approaches to manipulate the composition of our microbiota. The Round laboratory is exploring pathways that allow our immune system to distinguish between different types of organisms to inform the development of more precise strategies to therapeutically target resident microbes.

 

Ozgur Sahin

Department of Biological Sciences and Physics, Columbia University

Discipline: Biological Sciences

Sahin is developing specialized microscopes to investigate biological molecules and cells that function under physically extreme conditions, like confinement, to very small spaces and high pressures. These observations reveal interesting phenomena, which Sahin combines with engineering insights to address medical, environmental, and energy-related problems in novel ways.

 

David Schuster

Department of Physics, University of Chicago

Discipline: Physics

Schuster seeks to realize hybrid quantum systems, establishing quantum entanglement between disparate objects, such as superconducting circuits, solid-state electron spins, and ripples on the surface of superfluid helium.  Together, the unique properties of each system will be used to advance quantum computing and develop ultrasensitive quantum detectors.

 

Mamta Tahiliani

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, New York University

Discipline: Biological Sciences

Tahiliani’s laboratory endeavors to understand how chemical modifications of DNA participate in the regulation of the genome.  In particular, the Tahiliani group would like to dissect the mechanism by which these modifications preserve the integrity of the genome, thus protecting against tumor development and aging.

 

Zheng Wang

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Texas, Austin

Discipline: Engineering – Electrical or Computer

Using purposely-designed microfabricated patterns and surfaces, Wang seeks to further miniaturize microfluidic technology to nanoscales through forces generated by light to efficiently propel and steer nanofluidic flows. This effort will enable large-scale integrated fluidic systems and ultrafast tunable liquid optics.

 

Zhiwei Yun

Department of Mathematics, Stanford University

Discipline: Mathematics

Yun’s research project focuses on the interaction between algebraic geometry, number theory and representation theory of groups. He looks for ways to apply methods from one of these areas to solve problems in another. These problems are closely related to the conjectures of Langlands.