New York Academy of Sciences Talent Showcase
Meet the rising stars of science who are receiving recognition for their ground-breaking research.
Earlier this year, the 2020 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists announced the honorees of the 2020 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in Israel and in the United Kingdom. The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists are the largest unrestricted cash prizes available to scientists under the age of 42. For more information visit: blavatnikawards.org.
2020 Blavatnik Awards Laureates in Israel
PHYSICAL SCIENCES & ENGINEERING LAUREATE
Dr. Guy Rothblum, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, Weizmann Institute of Science
In our modern-day information age of cloud computing, “Big Data”, AI, and machine learning, new issues have emerged related to the privacy and security of personal data. Guy Rothblum, Ph.D., develops theories to address these emerging issues and the societal concerns they raise. His work has not only advanced our understanding of the fundamental limitations of cloud computing systems and machine learning methods, but has also influenced the development of new algorithms and protocols in these fields. For example, he developed a theory to efficiently verify the correctness of computations performed in the cloud which has influenced the ongoing development of verification protocols. He has also developed a state-of-the-art algorithm that prevents leakage of personal, sensitive information from analysis of big data sets, such as medical records or census data.
LIFE SCIENCES LAUREATE
Dr. Igor Ulitsky, Senior Scientist, Department of Biological Regulation, Weizmann Institute of Science
Igor Ulitsky, Ph.D., is working in uncharted areas of the human genome, studying how a type of genetic information produced there — long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) — works to influence human health and disease. Understanding how, when, and where lncRNAs are active in our bodies has major implications for the development of novel regenerative medicines and disease treatments. lncRNAs are unique in that — unlike canonical RNA molecules — they do not contain information for making proteins. Instead, their main function is to control gene expression. Ulitsky conquers the substantial challenges of understanding how lncRNAs function in cells and organisms by combining novel experimental and computational methods. In this way, he has creatively unlocked the potential for using lncRNAs as both therapeutic agents and targets that can pave the way for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, brain injury, and epilepsy.
Dr. Emmanuel Levy, Senior Scientist, Department of Structural Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science
Life processes involve an intricate choreography between tens of millions of protein building blocks that form the infrastructure of a cell. Recent technological advances have revealed the catalogues of proteins present in various cells and organisms. However, understanding how these protein building-blocks assemble and work together is an extraordinarily complex task due to the huge number of potential interactions. Emmanuel Levy, Ph.D., has revealed protein hot-spots on the surfaces of proteins, where mutations frequently trigger new assemblages. His findings suggest that these assemblages emerge frequently during evolution, in both health and disease. Additionally, Levy has developed a range of computational and biochemical methodologies to study proteins and their interactions, thereby generating key ideas and tools for grasping the molecular infrastructure of living cells.
2020 Blavatnik Awards Honorees in the U.K.
PHYSICAL SCIENCES & ENGINEERING LAUREATE
Professor Claudia de Rham, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Imperial College London
Claudia de Rham, Ph.D., has completed a decades-old quest to construct a rigorous and viable theory of massive gravity — a theory of physics that modifies Einstein’s theory of General Relativity to explain the nature of gravity. de Rham’s innovative solutions provide a potential explanation for why the universe is expanding faster and faster, and also has profound implications for the answers to other important questions in physics, such as the search for new types of particles in the universe.
PHYSICAL SCIENCES & ENGINEERING FINALISTS
Professor Ian Chapman, Chief Executive Officer, U.K. Atomic Energy Authority
Ian Chapman, Ph.D., is an international leader in developing renewable energy from nuclear fusion, the same mechanism that powers the Sun and other stars. By designing the device at the center of the world’s largest fusion project, his work is speeding up progress towards one day delivering practical and reliable fusion energy to the world. He also leads the U.K.’s new national fusion energy project, as CEO of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority.
Dr. Amaury Triaud, Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow, University of Birmingham
We have all wondered if life exists in the universe beyond our solar system. Amaury Triaud, Ph.D., is an astrophysicist searching for exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than the Sun — and has made major contributions to the discovery of a planetary system known as TRAPPIST-1. Of all the planetary systems discovered beyond our own, this has the most promising physical conditions to support life as we know it. In addition, he has pioneered the study of exoplanets that surround two stars instead of one, revealing profound new clues for understanding the formation and evolution of planets.
LIFE SCIENCES LAUREATE
Professor Timothy Behrens, Deputy Director, Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain and Professor of Computational Neurosciene, University of Oxford and Honorary Lecturer, Wellcome Centre for Imaging Neuroscience, University College London
Timothy Behrens, D.Phil., seeks to solve a fundamental mystery of the brain: how do the electrical signals in our brain control our behavior? To do this, he builds computer models and measures brain signals in humans and animals. His research reveals basic knowledge about the human brain and has translational implications for how doctors are guided while performing brain surgery, how computer scientists design artificial intelligence systems, and how we research mental and cognitive disorders.
LIFE SCIENCES FINALISTS
Professor Eleanor Stride, Statutory Professor of Biomaterials, University of Oxford
How can you guide drugs and other therapeutics to reach specific parts of the human body? Eleanor Stride, Ph.D., develops synthetic microbubbles that act as tiny vehicles to carry specific compounds throughout the body. Her innovative technology aims to revolutionize the treatment of cancer — microbubble delivery of cancer drugs — has the potential to eliminate common side effects of cancer treatment, including hair loss, nausea, and a weakened immune system. By delivering drugs just where they are needed, it is possible to attack tumors without harming healthy cells.
Professor Edze Rients Westra, Professor of Microbiology and NERC Independent Research Fellow, University of Exeter
Edze Westra, Ph.D., studies how bacteria protect themselves from viral attacks — information we can use to develop alternatives to conventional antibiotics. By investigating the bacterial immune system, CRISPR-Cas, Westra has laid the necessary groundwork for the development of strategies to circumvent antibiotic resistance, aiding in the development of novel antibiotics and next generation bacteria-enabled therapeutics.
Dr. Kirsty Penkman, Reader in Analytical Chemistry, University of York
Kirsty Penkman, Ph.D., leads a research program that has made tremendous advances in our ability to accurately date ancient fossils. A variety of methods currently exist for dating ancient objects, but beyond approximately 50,000 years, dating is very challenging. By carefully refining a technique called amino acid racemization, Penkman has extended this upper limit and successfully dated fossils more than 3 million years old, opening up a time window to help scientists better understand human evolution and climate change.
Professor Matthew Fuchter, Professor of Chemistry, Imperial College London
Matthew Fuchter, Ph.D., leads a multifaceted research group that uses a detailed understanding of molecular structural design to invent novel molecules and materials. His research has shown the potential to significantly alter the properties of carbon-based electronics, such as organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), as well as define novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of diseases ranging from malaria to cancer.
Professor Stephen Goldup, Professor of Chemistry and Royal Society Wolfson Fellow, University of Southampton
Stephen Goldup, Ph.D., is a synthetic chemist who has developed elegant methods for the construction of “mechanically interlocked molecules.” These are molecules that consist of two or more smaller molecules threaded through one another, rather than joined together by chemical bonds. This arrangement makes interlocked molecules very flexible and creates cavities that can be exploited in novel applications, such as to create new catalysts or novel materials.