Yale biomedical engineering assistant professor Rong Fan was awarded the 2012 Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering Oct. 15.

Fan, who passed several screening rounds first within and then outside Yale to clinch the fellowship, will be awarded $875,000 over a five-year period from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. These Fellowships are awarded to the nation’s “most promising” science and engineering professors to pursue research in the early stages of their careers, according to the Foundation.

Fan said he plans to use the grant to study proteins and their communication systems at the single-cell level. His team will investigate why certain proteins lead to cancer, and why the patterns of malignant abnormalities differ from person to person. Since proteins are fundamental to understanding cell operation, Fan said he wants to conduct protein analysis to find potential treatments for cancer.

“We want to take a bunch of proteins to understand what’s going on,” he said.

Stuart Campbell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, said he sees potential in Fan’s work, which will show how different proteins express themselves in tissues. He also lauded the atmosphere for scientific discovery at Yale.

“The biggest thing about Yale is the ability to identify and take advantage of collaborators”, he said. “It’s easy for a young investigator to come and become integrated with what’s happening.”

Fan’s SEAS colleagues said they are pleased with his fellowship win.

Lin Han, a postdoctoral fellow in biomedical engineering who worked on Fan’s project, called him a “genius” who is adept at combining the use of technology with research aims.

Fan, who described the fellowship as “difficult to get,” submitted his initial proposal to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the end of last year. After internal screening, the University nominated two researchers for the Packard fellowship. Of the 100 researchers from 50 universities participating in the competition, 16 were eventually awarded the fellowship, Fan said. Of the final 16, he is one of two winners from engineering fields — the rest have backgrounds in disciplines such as physics or chemistry.

Kathryn Miller-Jensen, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, described Fan as a “great colleague” in a Sunday email.

“He is very creative at using technology to enable novel biological assays”, she said. “He has an instinct for picking important biological problems.”

Fan conducted his experiments at the Malone Engineering Center, located at 55 Prospect Street.