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Janelle Ayres, Neal Devaraj, and Sergei Kalinin win Blavatnik Awards

by Linda Wang
July 16, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 29


Three young researchers have been named the winners of the 2018 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists, presented by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences.

The awards are given annually to promising researchers in the U.S. aged 42 and younger in the categories of chemistry, life sciences, and physical sciences and engineering. Each recipient will receive $250,000 in unrestricted funds.

Photo of Janelle Ayres.
Credit: Salk Institute
Janelle Ayres

Janelle Ayres, an associate professor at the Nomis Center for Immunobiology & Microbial Pathogenesis and Helen McLoraine Developmental Chair at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, is the recipient of the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists in Life Sciences for her research on host-pathogen interactions, which could help fight antimicrobial resistance.

“Many investigators seek to extend existing knowledge by asking how something works, an important and laudable scientific endeavor. I like to ask, ‘Why do things work the way they do?’ ” she says of the inspiration behind her research. “I hope that my perspective has the potential to provide solutions to global challenges of infectious diseases.”

Neal K. Devaraj, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, won the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists in Chemistry for his transformative work on the synthesis of artificial cells and membranes. His work has enabled the development of new methods for labeling biological molecules.

Photo of Neal Devaraj.
Credit: Courtesy of Neal Devaraj
Neal Devaraj

“Some of the most exciting and challenging scientific problems are at the interface between fields,” he says. “I would encourage younger scientists to not be afraid to take risks and leave your comfort zone when thinking about the kinds of research problems you want to tackle and to not be afraid of going after really challenging and difficult problems.”

Photo of Sergei Kalinin.
Credit: Courtesy of Sergei Kalinin
Sergei Kalinin

Sergei V. Kalinin, director of the Institute for Functional Imaging of Materials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is the recipient of the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists in Physical Sciences & Engineering for his work on nanoscale instrumentation to better understand materials and their functionality at the nanoscale and to enable atom-by-atom fabrication by electron beams.

“In the last several years, the emergence of supercomputers, big-data techniques, and deep-learning approaches potentially allow us to collect orders of magnitude more data from imaging tools, rapidly analyze them to learn physics and make libraries of structure-property relationships, and act upon this knowledge in real time,” he says. “This in turn opens a pathway for making better materials by being able to learn from atomic structures of real materials and not only averaged properties. It further allows us to assemble matter atom by atom using electron beams, opening a new way toward nanotechnology.”

The laureates will be honored at the Blavatnik National Awards ceremony on Sept. 24 in New York City.

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