2015 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 2015 Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Each Fellow will receive a grant of $875,000 over five years to pursue their research.

“The Packard Fellowships give some of the most talented, early-career scientists and engineers the flexibility to experiment, take risks and explore new ideas that they otherwise may not have the resources to do,” 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. “This type of investment in the nation’s best and brightest was something that David Packard believed would help to accelerate scientific breakthrough and in turn, provide many benefits to our society.”

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.

“As a former Packard Fellow, I deeply understand the significance of being recognized with this award and the profound impact this kind of flexible funding can have early on in a scientist’s career,” said Arnold. “The ability to think big and to then have the resources to explore that thinking is invaluable.”

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 $362 million to support 541 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 2015 Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are:

Karim-Jean Armache
Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, New York University  
Discipline: Biological Sciences  
Organization of eukaryotic genomes into chromatin plays a profound role in transcription, replication, recombination and repair. Armache’s laboratory studies how specialized macromolecular protein complexes regulate chromatin structure and dynamics. The lab’s work reveals basic molecular principles about chromatin function in normal development and how its deregulation results in disease.

Bhargav Bhatt
Department of Mathematics, University of Michigan  
Discipline: Mathematics  
Bhatt’s research lies in arithmetic geometry, which is the subfield of mathematics lying at the intersection of algebraic geometry (the study of solution sets of polynomial equations) and number theory (the study of properties of numbers, such as divisibility). A large portion of Bhatt’s work draws inspiration from topology (the study of shapes, up to continuous perturbation) to understand the behaviour of certain subtle notions in arithmetic geometry.

Arpita Bose
Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis  
Discipline: Biological Sciences  
Bose is a microbiologist who leads a multidisciplinary research program that studies microbial metabolisms influencing global biogeochemical cycles. She applies her results to generate novel ways to address critical issues including sustainable energy and environmental pollution.

Xiang Cheng
Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  
Discipline: Engineering – Chemical or Biological  
Cheng’s lab experimentally studies the physics of soft materials, a broad class of condensed matter that has important technological applications and forms the basis of most biological systems. Particularly, the lab is interested in the flow of suspensions composed of active particles and aims to design complex fluids with controllable fluid properties.

Kwanghun Chung
Department of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  
Discipline: Biotechnology  
Chung develops and applies new technologies for studying complex biological systems. Specifically, Chung’s group integrates chemical engineering, material, optical, and computational approaches to understand the fundamental mechanisms of brain function and dysfunction.

Kimberly L. Cooper
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego  
Discipline: Biological Sciences  
The jerboa is a desert adapted bipedal rodent with long hindlimbs, fused elongated metatarsals, three toes, and no foot muscles. Cooper’s lab capitalizes on these specialized features, the strengths of mouse genetic engineering, and the close evolutionary relationship of the two species to understand the mechanisms that shape limb form and function in development and evolution.

Brandi Cossairt
Department of Chemistry, University of Washington  
Discipline: Chemistry  
Research conducted by Cossairt’s lab contributes to fulfilling the transformational promise of nanoscience by solving fundamental challenges in controlling the composition of nanomaterials with atom-level precision. Addressing these challenges will contribute to the development of new technology in energy efficient solid state lighting, solar electricity generation, and green fuels formation.

Cory Dean
Department of Physics, Columbia University  
Discipline: Physics  
Dean’s lab investigates the electronic properties of nanoscale devices fabricated from the assembly of two-dimensional crystals. A particular focus is the study of collective phenomenon where, by forcing a system of electrons to strongly interact with each other, new properties can emerge beyond those of any single electron.

Jillian Lee Dempsey
Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill  
Discipline: Chemistry  
Dempsey’s research explores how catalysts can be used to convert solar energy into chemical fuels. Using time-resolved spectroscopy and electroanalytical methods, Dempsey and her research group are defining new ways to efficiently integrate light absorption and the formation of chemical bonds.

Seth Finnegan
Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley  
Discipline: Biological Sciences  
During past episodes of rapid environmental change, what determined which species went extinct and which survived? How did ecosystems function under different climate states? Finnegan’s lab group tries to answer these and other questions by studying the rich fossil record of marine organisms.

David Hsieh
Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, California Institute of Technology
Discipline: Physics  
Hsieh is interested in understanding how the interactions between electrons and nuclei in solids conspire to stabilize new quantum phases of matter. He is developing new optical- and electron-spectroscopy based techniques to identify them and to manipulate their macroscopic properties for applications ranging from energy efficient electronics to quantum computation.

Daniel Jarosz
Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, Stanford University  
Discipline: Biological Sciences
Survival in changing environments requires the acquisition of new heritable traits. Yet mechanisms that safeguard the fidelity of DNA replication often limit the source of such novelty. The Jarosz lab seeks to understand how links between protein folding and environmental stress thwart this paradox to influence evolution, disease, and development.

Kristy Jean Kroeker
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz  
Discipline: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology  
Kroeker studies how the accelerating changes in our environment are likely to alter the fundamental ways that ecosystems work in the future. As a community ecologist, she is particularly interested in how the effects of CO2-driven environmental changes on individual organisms scale-up to entire affect entire ecosystems.

Peter Thomas Rakich
Department of Applied Physics, Yale University  
Discipline: Physics  
Rakich combines experiment with simulations to understand new interactions between light and matter under extreme conditions. His group shapes these interactions as the basis for new laser and quantum computing technologies.

Elaine Runting Shi
Department of Computer Science, Cornell University  
Discipline: Computer/information sciences  
Cryptography offers powerful tools for securing our computing systems such as the web, Internet of Things, and cryptocurrency contracts. Unfortunately, programming cryptography is notoriously difficult and error-prone even for experts, let alone ordinary developers. Shi’s research designs new programming paradigms that enable non-specialist developers to program cryptography easily.

Jay Strader
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University  
Discipline: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology  
Strader discovers and studies black holes in the dense stellar environments of globular clusters using data from optical, X-ray, and radio telescopes. This work illuminates the formation of black holes in the death throes of massive stars and informs tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Jessica E. Tierney
Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona  
Discipline: Geosciences  
Tierney is a paleoclimatologist who uses the Earth’s history to gain perspective on past and future climate change. Her research involves generating high-quality paleoclimate records, applying rigorous statistical approaches to interrogate their meaning, and using paleoclimate data to assess the ability of climate models to simulate altered climates.

Melanie Matchett Wood
Department of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin, Madison  
Discipline: Mathematics  
The structure of how numbers like 1,2,3,…. factor into primes is incredibly complex. It not only underlies the encryption that protects all of our data online, but also contains the oldest unsolved mysteries of mathematics. Wood develops geometric and probabilistic tools that can unlock some of these mysteries.

For more detailed information on each of the Fellows, please visit: bit.ly/2015PackardFellows.