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Three Outstanding Biomedical Researchers Win the 2018 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists

Winners include a Stem Cell Biologist, a Biomedical Engineer, and a Biophysical Chemist; six additional scientists named Finalists

Published September 05, 2018

Three Outstanding Biomedical Researchers Win the 2018 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists

Supporting outstanding postdoctoral scientists from academic research institutions across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut since 2007, the Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists pay tribute to researchers in three scientific disciplinary categories: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry.  The distinguished jury of senior scientists and engineers selected three outstanding biomedical researchers as Winners who will each receive a $30,000 unrestricted prize, and six Finalists (two from each category) who each will collect a $10,000 unrestricted prize.

In 2018, the Blavatnik Regional Awards received 125 outstanding nominations from 22 academic institutions in the New York metropolitan (Tri-State) area. This year marks the first time when the jury selected three female Winners, all of whom are leading young scientists in their respective fields of research. The 2018 Blavatnik Regional Winners are:


  • Life Sciences: Shruti Naik, PhD, nominated by The Rockefeller University (now at NYU School of Medicine) is recognized for demonstrating that skin stem cells retain a “memory” of previous inflammatory experiences, allowing for a more robust and rapid response to subsequent injury.
  • Physical Sciences & Engineering: Lingyan Shi, PhD, Columbia University, is recognized for pioneering work that applies novel optical techniques for neuroscience and cancer research, including recent discovery of the “Golden Optical Window” for deep brain imaging, and a breakthrough platform for imaging metabolic activities in situ.
  • Chemistry: Lu Wei, PhD, nominated by Columbia University (now at the Caltech), is recognized for developing novel bio-imaging techniques coupled with chemical innovations that allow simultaneous visualization of four times the number of distinctive biological species in live cells and tissues that conventional methods are capable of.

At the time of nomination, both Drs. Shi and Wei were trainees of 2012 Blavatnik Regional Awards Faculty Finalist Prof. Wei Min of Columbia University.

2018 Life Sciences Finalists

  • Samuel Bakhoum, MD, PhD, nominated by Weill Cornell Medicine (now at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). A radiation oncologist and a cancer biologist, Dr. Bakhoum is recognized for discovering the mechanistic link between chromosomal instability in cancer cells, a hallmark of solid tumors, and inflammation-mediated metastasis, or spread, of cancer.

  • Zhe Zhang, PhD, The Rockefeller University. Dr. Zhang, a structural biologist, is recognized for determining the atomic structure of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) anion channel using cryo-electron microscopy. Mutations in CFTR cause cystic fibrosis, a common and lethal genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs and digestive system.


2018 Physical Sciences & Engineering Finalists

  • Lucia Gualtieri, PhD, Princeton University. Dr. Gualtieri is a seismologist recognized for contributions to the field of geophysics and seismology that have revolutionized our understanding of what globally detectable seismic background signals can tell scientists about environmental processes, such as hurricanes and landslides.

  • Peter Schauss, PhD, nominated by Princeton University (now at the University of Virginia). Dr. Schauss is an experimental physicist recognized for fundamental experiments using quantum gas microscopy – where atoms are cooled to temperatures only a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero so their behavior becomes dominated by quantum mechanics.

2018 Chemistry Finalists              

  • Niankai Fu, PhD, Cornell University. Dr. Fu, an organic chemist, is recognized for transformative work on the development of electroorganic synthesis as a viable synthetic chemistry tool.

  • Priyanka Sharma, PhD, Stony Brook University. Dr. Sharma is a polymer chemist recognized for her pioneering work on the low-cost conversion of untreated biomass to carboxycellulose nanofibers, which have applications in biomedicine and water purification.

Ellis Rubinstein, President and CEO of the Academy and Chair of the Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council commented on this year’s pool of honorees “The New York Metropolitan area’s scientific eco-system is a melting pot of scientific ideas and research disciplines. This year’s winners and finalists have taken risks, stepped ‘outside of the box’ of their traditional fields, and drawn from methods and applications beyond their strict disciplines, forging new ideas in the process. Their research and dedication is promising for the future of our world.” On this year’s clean sweep of the winning honors by women, Rubinstein stated “We are proud to provide a platform for supporting diversity in STEM, showcasing the talent of these incredible young women and in turn encouraging other young women to pursue careers in science. Science is better when diverse voices can shape and drive innovation.”

The 2018 Blavatnik Regional Awards winners and finalists will be honored at the New York Academy of Sciences’ 15th Annual Gala at the Conrad Hotel in New York on November 5, 2018.

Learn more or register here.

To learn more about this year’s Blavatnik honorees, please visit the Blavatnik website here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @BlavatnikAwards