Eighteen early-career researchers working in the fields of astronomy, biology, chemistry, civil engineering, geosciences, materials science, mathematics, nanotechnology, neuroscience, and physics will receive $875,000 each over five years to pursue their research. Launched in 1988 to provide young scientists and engineers with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their work, the program annually invites fifty universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration. To be nominated, the researcher must be a faculty member who is eligible to serve as principal investigator on a research project in the natural and physical sciences or engineering and be no more than three years from the start of their faculty career.
This year's fellows include Konstantin Batygin (California Institute of Technology), who will carry out a suite of theoretical and numerical calculations aimed at identifying the exact location of a Neptune-like planet that is suggested by the peculiar orbital alignments of objects in the Kuiper belt; Ilana Brito (Cornell University), who is working to develop novel experimental and in silico methods to detect horizontal gene transfer occurring within natural microbial communities; Pinshane Huang (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), who will develop a new experimental atomic-scale program focused on the study of and ultimately tailoring molecular structures and interactions; and Michael Yartsev (University of California, Berkeley), who hopes to uncover the mysterious neurobiological underpinning of language learning in the mammalian brain.
"These scientists and engineers are tackling unanswered questions and pushing the boundaries of their fields," said Frances Arnold, chair of the Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel and a former Packard Fellow. "Their innovations could lead to breakthroughs in how we live our lives and our understanding of nature. Is there another planet in our solar system? Can we find a way to predict earthquakes? Can learning more about how we make memories help us preserve them? If past fellowships are any indication, the possibilities are boundless."
For a list of this year's Packard Fellows, see the Packard Foundation website.