2016 Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering Awarded to Eighteen Researchers

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation named 18 of the nation’s most innovative early-career scientists and engineers as recipients of the 2016 Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Each Fellow will receive a grant of $875,000 over five years to pursue their research.

“David Packard loved science and engineering – and scientists and engineers. He believed deeply in their importance to our future as a nation and a world,” said Dr. Frances Arnold, Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry and Director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and Chair of the Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel. “The Packard Foundation is honored to have an ongoing opportunity to support these researchers in a meaningful way.”

The Packard Foundation established the Fellowships program in 1988 to provide early-career scientists with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields. 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 Fellowships 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 research and development in university laboratories.

“Year after year, we continue to be inspired by the Packard Fellows’ creativity, leadership in their fields and important breakthroughs in various fields of science and engineering,” said Arnold. “The revolutionary work of these talented researchers has the ability to profoundly impact the lives of their students and all of us in the world at large.”

Packard Fellows must be faculty members who are eligible to serve as principal investigators on 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.

Since 1988, the Foundation has awarded $378 million to support 559 scientists and engineers from 52 top national universities. The Packard Fellowships are among the nation’s largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility in how the funding is used. Packard Fellows have gone on to achieve significant accomplishments, receiving additional awards and honors that include the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Fields Medal, the Alan T. Waterman Award, MacArthur Fellowships and elections to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

The recipients of the 2016 Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering are:

Waseem S. Bakr
Department of Physics, Princeton University
Discipline: Physics
Bakr’s lab studies atomic and molecular gases cooled to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. His group uses optical microscopy to probe these strongly-interacting systems at the atomic level. Their research illuminates the behavior of electrons in a wide range of materials including superconductors and quantum magnets.

Gregory R. Bowman
Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, Washington University, St. Louis
Discipline: Biochemistry
A protein’s function is determined by the set of different structures it adopts. Unfortunately, it is impossible to directly observe most of these structures. The Bowman lab develops computer algorithms for building maps of the different shapes a protein adopts and exploits insights from these models to re-engineer proteins.

Margaret Chatham Crofoot
Department of Anthropology, University of California – Davis
Disciplines: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology
How do groups of individuals reach consensus about where to go or what to do? Collective decision-making is key to the evolution of complex social systems, including our own. Crofoot’s lab conducts field-based experiments on wild primates to determine how group-living animals overcome conflicts of interest to achieve shared goals.

Rachel Dutton
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California – San Diego
Discipline: Biological Sciences
Microbial communities are important for the function of nearly every ecosystem on the planet. Yet these communities are also vastly complex and incredibly difficult to study. The Dutton lab uses cheese as a simple model system to uncover the inner workings of life within microbial communities.

Jonathan Fan
Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University
Discipline: Engineering – Electrical or Computer
Imaging systems today are pervasive, with most people owning a smart phone and hence a camera. Fan’s research program aims to push the physical limits of such miniaturized optical systems to new functional regimes, using a multi-disciplinary effort that combines materials science, nanotechnology, and computational design.

Ryan Foley
Department of Astronomy, University of California – Santa Cruz
Disciplines: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology
Foley studies exploding stars, often with a telescope from the top of a mountain. He is interested in characterizing the many ways a star can die. For a subset of these explosions, he precisely measures their distances, with which he tracks the Universe’s expansion and investigates the Universe’s largest component, dark energy.

Bo Li
Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Discipline: Chemistry
The Li lab studies the remarkable chemistries bacteria have evolved and the wealth of drug-like molecules they produce. We are dedicated to unlocking the hidden chemistry of bacterial genomes and discovering the next generation of antibiotics.

Dengke Ma
Department of Physiology, University of California – San Francisco
Discipline: Biological Sciences
Low temperature (hypothermia) and reduced oxygen (hypoxia) universally slow down organismic biological time. Many species in nature have evolved unique traits to respond and adapt to severe hypothermia/hypoxia. We use genetically tractable C. elegans and develop a new vertebrate model using Mangrove Killifish to discover novel mechanisms for biological tolerance of hypothermia/hypoxia.

Kin Fai Mak
Department of Physics, Pennsylvania State University
Discipline: Physics
Mak is interested in electronic systems with multiple internal quantum degrees of freedom, in which unconventional transport phenomena and multi-component superfluidity of charge particles emerge. By combining spectroscopy and microscopy techniques, his lab explores these phenomena in atomically thin materials and their heterostructures.

Ankur Moitra
Department of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Discipline: Computer/information sciences
Modern machine learning is built on techniques that work well in practice, but for which we have little rigorous understanding. The goal of Moitra’s work is to develop algorithms with provable guarantees for fundamental problems in machine learning, and to develop a theoretical foundation for reasoning about their behavior.

Kang-Kuen Ni
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University
Discipline: Chemistry
The Ni group works at the quantum interface of chemistry and physics to study how simple rules give rise to complexity. Ni’s research focuses on new techniques to bring molecules to a standstill and use them as quantum building blocks of complex system.

Noah John Planavsky
Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University
Discipline: Geosciences
The Planavsky group’s goal is to develop a novel toolkit to track the dynamics of marine primary productivity from Earth’s earliest history to the very recent past. A better understanding of how life in the oceans has changed will help in understanding the factors that drive climate change and ecosystem shifts.

William Ratcliff
School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology
Disciplines: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology
The transition to multicellularity was transformational for life on Earth, but this evolutionary leap remains poorly understood. By evolving novel multicellular organisms in the lab from single-celled ancestors, Ratcliff explores the origin of key multicellular innovations, such as cellular division of labor and multicellular development.

Thomas Rothvoss
Department of Mathematics, University of Washington
Discipline: Computer/information sciences
Rothvoss’ research is located in the intersection of mathematics and computer science and deals with the question of which types of computational problems can be solved efficiently by algorithms and which ones cannot. In particular, he develops techniques to find approximate solutions to computationally hard problems.   

Corinna S. Schindler
Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan
Discipline: Chemistry
One of the foremost challenges facing our generation is the invention of sustainable alternatives to precious metal catalysts that are commonly used in the industrial processes that provide today’s society with new technologies, medicines and materials. The objective of Schindler’s research program is the discovery of new, sustainable synthetic methods relying on earth-abundant and environmentally benign metal catalysts.

Mikhail G. Shapiro
Department of Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological
The Shapiro lab engineers biomolecules that allow cells deep in the body to communicate with the outside world using sound waves and magnetic fields. This technology could facilitate the study of cellular function in living animals and aid the development of cellular diagnostics and therapies.

Ke Xu
Department of Chemistry, University of California – Berkeley
Discipline: Chemistry
Xu is a physical chemist who develops new tools to interrogate biological, chemical, and materials systems at the nanoscale with extraordinary resolution and sensitivity. To do so, his lab takes a multidimensional approach that synergistically integrates microscopy, spectroscopy, nanotechnology, and cell biology.

Andrea Young
Department of Physics, University of California – Santa Barbara
Discipline: Physics
In fewer than three dimensions, the laws of physics are different, and states of matter are possible that cannot be realized in three dimensions. Young’s group focuses on creating electronic devices where such states are realized, as well as developing measurement techniques that can probe their macroscopic quantum mechanical properties

For more detailed information on each of the Fellows, please visit: bit.ly/2016FellowsDirectory