The David and Lucile Packard Foundation Announces the 2023 Class of Packard Fellows for Science and Engineering

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation announced today the 2023 class of Packard Fellows for Science and Engineering. The 35th Anniversary class features 20 innovative early-career scientists and engineers, who will each receive $875,000 over five years to pursue their research. This year’s class of Fellows are exploring new frontiers in their fields of study, such as how animals make decisions in the face of environmental changes, how brain-body interactions work, and how bird flight can be used to improve aircraft design.

“From the nanoscale to the scale of the galaxies, the 2023 class of Fellows are making ground-breaking discoveries, conducting critical research, and leaving a lasting impact on the scientific community and our world,” said Jason Burnett, Packard Foundation Board Chair. “Their ability to strive for the impossible is a contagious source of hope for those looking to change the field of science and will serve as inspiration for the next generation of researchers.”

Since 1988, the Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering have encouraged blue-sky thinking by providing maximum flexibility through unrestricted funds that can be used in any way the Fellows choose, including paying for necessities like child care. This flexibility allows Fellows to take risks and pursue trailblazing research, which has led to critical advancements that impact our daily lives from detecting viruses and improving our public health response to outbreaks, to gene-editing technology that is affecting how we tackle diseases, to understanding our changing climate and how animals and ecosystems will adapt. Fellows have gone on to receive the highest accolades, including Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics –  which includes this year’s Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Moungi Bawendi – Fields Medals, Alan T. Waterman Awards, Breakthrough Prizes, Kavli Prizes, and elections to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

The Packard Fellowships were inspired by David Packard’s passion for science and engineering and his commitment to strengthening university-based science and engineering programs in the United States. He recognized that the success of the Hewlett-Packard Company, which he co-founded, was derived in large measure from research and development in university laboratories. It was with this spirit that the Foundation launched the Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering program 35 years ago. Since its inception, the Packard Foundation has awarded nearly $500 million to support 695 scientists and engineers from 54 universities.

“These extraordinary scholars join the community of Packard Fellows pushing the boundaries of innovation and discovery in science and engineering to make a real difference to our world,” said Dr. Richard Alley, Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering Advisory Panel Chair and 1991 Packard Fellow. “We look forward to welcoming them to the Packard Fellows community and supporting their efforts to collaborate, learn, and create together.”

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 Packard Foundation also continues to support Fellows as they undertake a variety of self-directed initiatives to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM through additional targeted grants.

The recipients of the 2023 Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering are:

Briana Abrahms
Department of Biology, University of Washington
Discipline: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology

How do animals make decisions in the face of unprecedented environmental changes, and what are the consequences of those decisions for individual fitness, populations, and interactions among other animals and humans alike? The Abrahms Lab aims to propel new understanding of the causes and consequences of wildlife responses to global change.

Carlos Argüelles-Delgado 
Department of Physics, Harvard University
Discipline: Physics; Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology

Neutrinos light, neutral particles, may hold the key to finding new physics. The Argüelles-Delgado Lab uses neutrinos produced in some of the most violent processes in the Universe to search for signatures of new physics that could shed light to the origin of neutrino masses and theories of quantum gravity.

Brian Belardi
McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological

From organ building to maintaining physiological homeostasis, tissues rely on adhesions between cells to accomplish a dizzying combination of tasks. The Belardi Lab studies the molecular underpinnings of cell adhesions and develops new technologies to manipulate and harness their structure for therapeutic benefit.

Ritchie Chen
Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological; Neuroscience; Materials Science; Nanotechnology

Bodily sensations, such as heart palpitations, hunger pangs, and pain, profoundly shape our mental state and behavior. The Chen Lab develops cell-type-specific tools and devices to study the neurobiology of brain-body interactions, informing neuromodulation strategies for advancements in bioelectronic medicine.

Yanxiang Deng 
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological

The location and interaction of cells within the tissue is essential for understanding biological processes and diseases. The Deng Lab is developing new tools at the intersection of microchip, microscopy, and genomics to study tissue complexity and reveal the features of tissue architecture in physiology and pathology.

Richard Fletcher 
Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Discipline: Physics

All quantum matter, from superconductors to neutron stars, arises from the interplay of just a few common ingredients. The Fletcher Lab explores this emergence using atomic vapors, a million times thinner than air and a million times colder than interstellar space, manipulated by intricately sculpted laser beams and magnetic fields.

Rachel Glade
Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Rochester
Discipline: Geosciences

Landscapes are constantly sculpted by wind, water, ice, and gravity as sediment moves in rivers, dunes, and hillslopes. The Glade Lab connects the physics of pattern formation in soft materials (e.g., cake icing or sandcastles) with that of natural sediment-fluid mixtures to better understand how planetary surfaces deform over time.

Christina Harvey
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, Davis
Discipline: Engineering – Civil or Mechanical; Biological Sciences

What can birds do that aircraft can’t? That question is central to the Harvey Lab as it enlists both biological and engineering principles to identify the most beneficial characteristics of bird flight that can improve future aircraft designs.

Yuzhang Li 
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological; Materials Science; Nanotechnology

The electrified interface between a liquid and solid contains the electrical double layer, which governs fundamental processes spanning battery operation to biological cell communication. The Li Group is inventing novel tools that can directly image this elusive interface, which will provide new insights for technologies in sustainability and health.

Mengxia Liu
Department of Electrical Engineering, Yale University
Discipline: Materials Science; Nanotechnology

Understanding the behavior of energy carriers is crucial to diverse processes involving energy conversion and storage. The Liu Group explores the out-of-equilibrium carrier dynamics in functioning devices using multimodal techniques, and leverages these insights to design novel materials and device concepts for applications in energy, sensing, and information technologies.

Yayuan Liu
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological; Materials Science; Nanotechnology; Chemistry

The growing availability of electricity from renewable sources has given us unprecedented opportunities to revolutionize traditional engineering processes using electrochemistry, thereby offering solutions to the sustainability challenges faced by our society. The Liu Lab develops new materials and methods for electrochemically driven chemical separations, including carbon capture, water remediation, and beyond.

Claudia Loebel 
Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Michigan
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological

Memory encodes and stores information that can be retrieved in decision-making in all processes related to human existence. The Loebel Lab seeks to understand the cellular memory that is embedded by cells into their surrounding matrix to advance biology and to discover new therapeutic targets.

Nicole Martinez  
Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, Stanford University
Discipline: Biochemistry

RNAs are extensively chemically modified to create non-canonical nucleosides that can impact their fate and function in cells. The Martinez Lab studies how RNA modifications control gene expression with a focus on RNA modifications, mRNA processing, and their roles in development and disease.

Lerrel Pinto 
Department of Computer Science at the Courant Institute, New York University
Discipline: Computer/Information Sciences

Making sense of our messy, unpredictable world and constantly changing sensory stimuli within it is hard, even for humans. The Pinto Lab is building robots that can interact with these environments and continually manipulate objects, learn from their mistakes, and seek advice from humans.

Lisa Poulikakos 
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego
Discipline: Materials Science; Nanotechnology

Imaging science is a critical enabler of revolutionary scientific advances. However, current imaging technologies face prohibitive trade-offs in resolution, penetration depth, and experimental complexity. The Poulikakos Lab develops new classes of nanomaterials that overcome these challenges. The resulting miniaturized platforms pave the way toward next-generation imaging for versatile societal applications.

Noah Stephens-Davidowitz 
Department of Computer Science, Cornell University
Discipline: Computer/Information Sciences

The cryptography that powers much of the modern world relies on certain unproven assumptions for its security – specifically, that certain mathematical problems would require astronomical computational power to solve. Stephens-Davidowitz studies the theoretical foundations of such assumptions, specifically the mathematics of lattice-based cryptography.

Dayne Swearer 
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological

Plasmas are considered the fourth state of matter and represent exotic chemically reactive environments uniquely capable of activating stubborn molecules, such as CO2. The Swearer Lab studies out-of-equilibrium reaction dynamics in plasmas and their interactions with catalytic interfaces to accelerate the electrification and decarbonization of the chemical industry.

Marissa Weichman  
Department of Chemistry, Princeton University
Discipline: Chemistry

Molecules absorb specific colors of light that encode intricate information about their quantum structure, dynamics, and chemistry. The Weichman Lab develops experimental methods that use light to probe – and control – complex molecular systems that are important to Earth’s atmosphere, astrophysical environments, and fundamental chemical physics.

Yang Yang   
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Santa Barbara
Discipline: Chemistry; Engineering – Chemical or Biological

Biocatalysis holds the potential to revolutionize the sustainable production of biofuels, chemicals, and medicine. However, current biocatalysis research is limited to the engineering of enzyme functions known in either biochemistry or organic chemistry. The Yang Research Group combines expertise in synthetic biology and synthetic chemistry to develop new strategies to discover and evolve novel modes of biocatalysis that are not only new-to-nature but also new-to-chemistry.

Jun-Yan Zhu 
The Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
Discipline: Computer/Information Sciences

Large-scale generative models are making visual content creation accessible to everyone. However, they also raise concerns among many creators regarding job security and data ownership. The Zhu Lab aims to develop a human-centered generative modeling approach, empowering creators to leverage these generative models, while retaining creative control and receiving proper compensation.