Five professors at Yale have each received a $65,000 fellowship to further their research in their respective fields.
Awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Sloan Research Fellowship honors early-career researchers and scholars who are selected based on their “independent research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in his or her field,” according to the Foundation. 126 U.S. and Canadian researchers were awarded the fellowship this year.
The five Yale faculty members selected are: molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor David Breslow, physics professor David Moore, economics professor Joseph Shapiro, mathematics professor Stefan Steinerberger and statistics and data science professor Yihong Wu.
“It’s really quite an honor to be recognized with the Fellowship, and it’s hugely important for us,” Moore said. “We’re all trying to get our research programs set up and, especially for those of us in the sciences, building experiments is a daunting task to be able to get federal funding for especially, so these sorts of private foundations and fellowships are really helpful.”
The fellowships are awarded in eight fields: mathematics, neuroscience, physics, economics, chemistry, computer science, computational and evolutionary molecular biology and ocean sciences. Each department at Yale was allowed to nominate eight junior faculty for the Sloan Research Fellowship, Moore said, and the recipients were notified about three weeks ago.
Moore — whose lab specializes in experimental nuclear and particle physics — studies dark matter and dark energy through small-scale precision experiments.
Like Moore, awardee Breslow noted that the funding and recognition are helpful for faculty who are establishing their research programs. He said he will use the fellowship to support his work on primary cilia — hairlike organelles found in humans and other organisms that perform vital functions through their rhythmic motion.
Breslow’s lab investigates a few aspects of the biology of cilia, including how the elaborate structures are assembled within cells, how they function in an antenna-like way to help cells receive signals and how specific proteins made in the cell body are delivered to and transported out of these structures. Additionally, Breslow studies how cilia contribute to the development of different tissues, including in the nervous system, as well as how developmental disorders can arise from damaged cilia.
Several of the awardees said the fellowship may catalyze their research, give them valuable recognition and offer opportunities for networking. One specific networking experience, according to Wu, the statistics and data science professor, is that the five Yale winners will have lunch together this Friday to get to know each other.
Wu’s research delves into statistical inference — the process of drawing conclusions about populations from data. For example, he works on community detection, which aims to understand the structure of complex networks, with applications in fields such as politics, health care and economics.
Steinerberger’s main field of interest is mathematical analysis — “a high-powered version of calculus,” according to the professor. One of the focuses of his studies is in the applied math program, where he collaborates with physician-scientists at the School of Medicine.
These researchers at the medical school work with large amounts of data that they need to analyze, he explained, and Steinerberger helps develop new mathematical techniques to break down the complexity of the data. An example is investigating what is in each of 1.5 million blood cells in a sample, he added.
Steinerberger also noted that, as a mathematician, he will use the fellowship funding to facilitate his collaborators travel, rather than to pay for any physical lab equipment or materials.
“I’m happy to get this award, as it allows me to do certain things that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” Steinerberger said. “One is just to invite people to come and spend some time here. The way that math works is that you get together with people in a room and talk and look at equations.”
Shapiro, the economics professor, researches the interplay between trade and the environment. His work aims to understand how trade policy affects pollution and how environmental policy in turn can affect trade.
Steinerberger emphasized the important role supportive and helpful colleagues play in his success.
“I got the prize, to some extent, because I was given the chance to work in a very nurturing environment that gives me a lot of freedom,” he said.
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