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Stanford Science Fellows program launches with philanthropic support

The program is a fundamentally new type of postdoctoral training focused on attracting diverse and exceptional scholars from around the world to cultivate new directions in foundational scientific research.

The 2020 Stanford Science Fellows, from top left to bottom right: Caleb Lareau, Shankari Rajagopal, Alfredo Valencia, Viktoryia Shautsova, Sarah Cooley, Cody Aldaz, Ina Anreiter, Ivana Cvijović. Photo: Andrew Brodhead

A new postdoctoral program that strives to deepen our understanding of the natural world while enhancing diversity and interactions across scientific disciplines will welcome its inaugural cohort of scholars this fall.

The 2020 Stanford Science Fellows are eight postdoctoral researchers from around the world who are studying a variety of topics, including geoscience, computational chemistry, and condensed matter physics. The program arose from Stanford’s Long-Range Vision as a way to cultivate new directions in foundational scientific research by advancing and bridging disciplines in the physical, mathematical, and life sciences.

“I am deeply grateful to our supporters, who are providing an exceptional level of foundational funding for the program. The Stanford Science Fellows program will bring outstanding scholars from around the world to our campus. It will also advance diversity in the natural science workforce, inspiring new angles of inquiry, new modes of analysis, new discoveries, and new solutions,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

Most postdoctoral scholars in the sciences today are recruited to specific labs to work on projects associated with the research of a senior scientist or principal investigator (PI). In contrast, Stanford Science Fellows will collaborate with and be overseen by multiple PIs across different disciplines in the natural sciences while pursuing projects of their own design. They will have the freedom to select the scientific questions they want to pursue and to collaborate with any relevant faculty, postdocs, or students within or outside of Stanford.

The Stanford Science Fellows Program will recognize and support scholars who reflect a diversity of perspectives, identities, life experiences, and backgrounds, including those from groups that are underrepresented in the sciences. Stanford Science Fellow appointments are for three-year terms.

“Stanford Science Fellows will serve as a community-building glue that helps bring people from different disciplines to work together on challenging scientific research projects together,” said Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S). “We have arguably the best cluster of science departments in the world. This is what our superb science faculty are telling us will benefit their research the most.”

Foundational research

Foundational, curiosity-driven research in the natural sciences is critical to creating the raw knowledge required for shaping new technologies and developing solutions to society’s greatest challenges.

“The Stanford Science Fellows program is focused on incubating new directions in foundational scientific research by a vibrant, interdisciplinary community of exceptional postdoctoral scholars from around the world, driven by a sense of wonder about the natural world,” said Stanford ChEM-H co-director Chaitan Khosla, who was deeply involved in the program’s creation.

Fellows will hone their ability to communicate to broad audiences and build peer networks that will be important for achieving their ambitious scientific agendas. They will meet periodically as a full group for discussions with faculty mentors and to hear talks about forefront issues in science and related issues in policy and ethics.

“The connections they develop will benefit them, and Stanford, far into the future,” said Peter Michelson, senior associate dean for the natural sciences in H&S and chair of the fellows program. “By providing them the opportunities to learn from each other and the flexibility to pursue the goals of the program, we will establish foundational research in the natural sciences as an important priority of the university for many years to come.”

The fellows program will also include workshops, seminars, informal lunches and dinners, and discussions with Stanford faculty and visitors on current topics throughout the natural sciences. It will also incorporate community-building activities to foster career development and leadership skills. “Leadership can take many forms, and in science, we’re really looking for intellectual leadership. Each of the fellows has their own research vision and the necessary skills to bring together whatever team is needed to realize it,” said Monika Schleier-Smith, an associate professor of physics in H&S and a member of the program’s steering committee. “We certainly had more fantastic candidates than we had spots available, so the ones who are coming are really creative scientists with great potential.”

Interdisciplinary influence

Stanford offers a wide range of resources and opportunities for scientists focusing on foundational research. Its top-ranked science and engineering departments, as well as many interdisciplinary research and policy institutes, are situated in close proximity to one another on the same campus. The university also shares faculty with the nearby SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a renowned laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, and it has two natural laboratories for immersive field research: Hopkins Marine Station and Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Stanford Science Fellows will have access to all of these resources while also being part of a broad academic community that includes ethicists, economists, and poets who can help them assess the moral, social, and artistic implications of their scientific discoveries.

“I am thrilled by the opportunity to bring together researchers from different fields, which is of paramount importance if we are to solve grand scientific challenges such as understanding the human brain,” said Viktoryia Shautsova, who will be developing nanoscale brain-computer interfaces during her time as a Stanford Science Fellow. “Stanford’s strong collaborative spirit and vibrant community of neuroscience researchers make it an ideal place to pursue this project.”

“Eight fellows might seem like a small number compared to the total number of postdocs at Stanford,” Schleier-Smith said, “but if each of them engages with three different faculty members, each of whose research groups have a number of graduate and undergraduate students, you can imagine the kind of huge impact they could have.”

2020 Stanford Science Fellows

The 2020 Stanford Science Fellows and their research interests:

Cody Aldaz will develop materials for applications in medicine, defense technology, and other fields.

Ina Anreiter is currently developing computational tools for the study of genetics and furthering her research on the long-term effects of environment and experience on biological processes.

Sarah Cooley’s research will focus on harnessing miniature satellites for the remote study of greenhouse methane emissions from Arctic waters.

Ivana Cvijović’s work combines evolutionary theory and the methods of physics and mathematics to understand how mutation and natural selection shape genetic diversity within large populations.

Caleb Lareau will collaborate with researchers in the School of Medicine to understand genetic relationships among cells in the human body and investigate how cells respond to damage and disease.

Shankari Rajagopal came to Stanford as a postdoctoral scholar studying quantum physics and will continue to pursue experimental investigations of novel phases of matter as a Stanford Science Fellow.

Viktoryia Shautsova will draw upon her knowledge in physics, material science, neuroscience, and biology to develop nanoscale brain-computer interfaces for studying the human brain with the potential to allow people to interact with artificial intelligence systems.

Alfredo Valencia will investigate neurodevelopment and the genetics of developmental disorders.

The second cohort of Stanford Science Fellows was announced on May 24, 2021.