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Winners and Finalists Named in the New York Academy of Sciences’ 2012 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists Competition

Judging deadlock leads to unprecedented number of outstanding young researchers named as award winners.

Published May 24, 2012

NEW YORK, May 21, 2012 —The New York Academy of Sciences' Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists competition has named nine winners and two finalists in its 2012 competition. These eleven exceptional scientists hail from research institutions in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The Blavatnik Awards celebrate highly innovative, impactful, and interdisciplinary accomplishments of researchers under the age of 42 in the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering.  Faculty winners receive $25,000 and postdoctoral winners receive $15,000; faculty finalists receive $10,000 and postdoctoral finalists receive $5,000. All prizes are awarded as unrestricted funds and are made possible by the generosity of the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

"Now in its sixth year, the New York Academy of Sciences is proud to recognize the most accomplished young scientists who are working to advance science and technology in the world's greatest cluster of universities and academic medical centers. We are particularly thrilled with not just the volume, but the outstanding quality, of the applications this year," says Academy President and CEO Ellis Rubinstein.

This year the Blavatnik Awards accepted nominations in 35 scientific disciplines, and applications were evaluated by 63 distinguished judges. The Blavatnik Awards program is distinct from other awards programs in its effort to compare applicants between and across all scientific and technological disciplines.

"There are a few awards for young scientists, but almost all of them are based on proposals that you submit, and not on the actual work that you do as a young scientist," says 2010 Blavatnik Awards faculty winner Michal Lipson, MacArthur Fellow and Associate Professor in the Nanophotonics Research Group at Cornell University. "[The Blavatnik Awards] is true recognition of the work of young scientists; it is unique in that sense. There is no equivalent."

The five postdoctoral winners, four faculty winners, and two faculty finalists were selected from more than 170 nominations after two rigorous rounds of reviews. During the final round of evaluations, judges were deadlocked in their decisions regarding many top applications.  Due to this unprecedented situation, the New York Academy of Sciences decided to name the greatest number of winners yet-a testament to the growing prominence of the Blavatnik Awards program, as well as the outstanding quality of scientific research being conducted in the New York tri-state area

The 2012 winners and finalists work in a wide variety of scientific fields. Those in faculty positions conduct research in the fields of public health, ecology, physics, mathematics, computer science, and chemistry. Postdoctoral awardees are advancing the areas of astronomy, medicine, developmental biology, neuroscience, and structural and molecular biology.

Having now finished its sixth year of competitions, the Blavatnik Awards has garnered international prestige for highlighting the groundbreaking career accomplishments of young researchers. Past awardees represent more than 30 scientific disciplines and more than 20 research institutions. This year alone, seven institutions are represented: Columbia University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York University, Princeton University, The Rockefeller University, Syracuse University, and Yale University. Since their placement, past winners and finalists have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and other prestigious academic societies, been awarded MacArthur, Guggenheim, and various other fellowships and prizes, earned appointments to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, served as Deans and department chairs, and continued to impact the scientific community in the tri-state area and abroad.

"A strong and steady pipeline of highly trained scientific talent is essential if we are to successfully address the many challenges facing our world. These brilliant young scientists represent our future and our hope for a better world for all," says Len Blavatnik, Chairman of Access Industries and Chairman of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, which provides financial support for the awards program.

Winners and finalists will be honored at the Academy's 9th annual Science & the City Gala on Monday, November 12th, 2012. This year the focus will be on Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: Mentoring the Innovators of Tomorrow to highlight the Academy's commitment to fostering scientific advancement at every possible stage: from primary school to postdoctoral training to professional research by distinguished faculty.

The winners are:

Faculty Winners
B. Andrei Bernevig, Princeton University, Condensed Matter Physics
For predicting the quantum behavior of electrons in the excited state.

Jason Fridley, Syracuse University, Ecology & Ecological Economics
For forecasting the impact of climate change and invasive species on terrestrial ecological communities.

Alison Galvani, Yale University, Applied Mathematics & Evolutionary Ecology
For providing mathematical models of disease outbreaks leading to effective public health interventions.

Assaf Naor, New York University, Mathematics & Computer Science
For elucidating problems at the interface of mathematics (geometry and analysis) and computer science.

Postdoctoral Winners
Andrey Feklistov, The Rockefeller University, Structural Biology (Darst Lab)
For resolving a fundamental transcription mechanism also important for drug design.

Michael Hahn, Columbia University, Astronomy (Savin Lab)
For solving the corona heating problem in stars.

Robert Johnston, New York University, Developmental Biology (Desplan Lab)
For showing that stochastic variation in gene expression can lead to changes in cell fate during development.

Elisa Oricchio, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Clinical Medicine (Wendel Lab)
For identifying a new molecular target for lymphoma therapy.

Nicholas Stavropoulos, The Rockefeller University, Neuroscience (Young Lab)
For studying the function and regulation of sleep.

In addition to the nine aforementioned winners, the New York Academy of Sciences is pleased to announce two faculty members who have been named as finalists in the 2012 competition.

The faculty finalists are:

Faculty Finalists
Michael Collins, Columbia University, Computer Science
For making fundamental advances in machine learning and natural language processing.

Wei Min, Columbia University, Physical Chemistry
For developing new optical bio-imaging techniques to understand in vivo complex molecular systems and processes.

For information about the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, please contact Marley Bauce, Awards Administrator, at or (212) 298-8624. For information about the Academy's Science & the City Gala, please contact Jennifer Shin, Development Assistant, at or (212) 298-8674.

About The Blavatnik Family Foundation
The Blavatnik Family Foundation is an active supporter of many leading educational, scientific, cultural and charitable institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, and throughout the world. Recipients of Foundation support include Oxford University, Harvard University, Tel Aviv University, The Royal Opera House, The Hermitage, The National Portrait Gallery, The British Museum, The National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Academy of Sciences, The White Nights Foundation of America, numerous Jewish charitable organizations and countless other philanthropic institutions. The Foundation is headed by Len Blavatnik, an American industrialist. Mr. Blavatnik is the founder and Chairman of Access Industries, a privately-held industrial group with global interests in natural resources and chemicals, media and telecommunications, and real estate.

About the New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide. With 25,000 members in 140 countries, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The Academy's core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large. Please visit us online at