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Nine young faculty members receive prized Sloan Research Fellowships

By Robert Sanders

circularly cropped headshots of 9 people

UC Berkeley's 2024 Sloan Research Fellows are (clockwise from upper left) Dipti Nayak, Kwabena Bediako, Michael Lindsey, Meng-meng Fu, Nika Haghtalab, Geoff Penington, Preeya Khanna, Yakun Sophia Shao and Penny Wieser.

UC Berkeley

As a sign of the University of California, Berkeley's ability to attract the most promising early-career researchers, nine young assistant professors have been named 2024 Sloan Research Fellows, the largest number from any institution.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced 126 new fellows today (Tuesday, Feb. 20), recognizing the most innovative young scientists across the U.S. and Canada. The fellowship is among the most competitive and prestigious awards available to early-career scholars in North America.

Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 award which can be used flexibly to advance their research.

Since the first Sloan Research Fellowships were awarded in 1955, 306 UC Berkeley faculty members, including this year's honorees, have received one.

UC Berkeley's 2024 Sloan fellows are:

Dipti Nayak, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology. Nayak studies microorganisms that produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. She is developing these so-called methanogens as a model system to gain insight into the biology of archaea — the domain to which these ancient, single-celled organisms belong — and unravel their impact on past, present and future of life on Earth.

Geoff Penington, assistant professor and the Arnold and Barbara Silverman Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics. Penington employs ideas from the theories of quantum information and quantum computers to understand the quantum properties of gravity. Most recently, his work resolved a paradox surrounding black holes: how the information falling into a black hole is encoded in the Hawking radiation left behind when the black hole evaporates.

Kwabena Bediako, assistant professor and the Cupola Era Professor in the College of Chemistry. Bediako designs and synthesizes new atomically-thin, precisely-tailored 2D materials, in which he can study the collective behavior of electrons to uncover the principles that underlie efficient manipulation of electron transport and spin–spin interactions within solids. These principles are the basis for novel ultralow-power electronic devices that could enable the next generation of electrochemical systems for renewable energy conversion and storage.

Meng-meng Fu, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology. Fu studies glial cells, a type of cell that supports neurons — sometimes referred to as the glue of the nervous system — but that has also been implicated in disease. She aims to understand glial function at the animal, cellular and molecular level in order to elucidate mechanisms of normal development, but also the role glia play in diseases, such as the leukodystrophies that primarily affect children.

Michael Lindsey, assistant professor of mathematics. Lindsey works on computational methods involving numerical linear algebra, optimization and randomization, with a special focus on high-dimensional scientific computing problems. These include quantum many-body problems arising in quantum chemistry and condensed matter physics, as well as problems in applied probability.

Nika Haghtalab, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and co-director of the Center for the Theoretical Foundations of Learning, Inference, Information, Intelligence, Mathematics and Microeconomics at Berkeley (CLIMB). Haghtalab focuses on problems related to machine learning, algorithms, economics and society. Her work contributes to an emerging mathematical foundation for learning and decision-making systems in the presence of economic and societal forces, allowing her to tackle problems in collaborative and federated learning, learning in markets and other economic settings, incentive-aware and robust learning, and foundations of machine learning, generally.

Penny Wieser, assistant professor of earth and planetary science. A volcanologist, Wieser collects lava, crystals, gases and aerosols from volcanoes around the world to analyze them chemically, then uses the data this with modeling to understand the conditions under which magmas are stored prior to eruption, what controls why and how they erupt, and the impact of volcanic emissions of toxic elements on regional air quality.

Preeya Khanna, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and a member of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. Khanna conducts experiments to understand how distributed brain networks coordinate to control skillful dexterous movements, such as hand gestures. She uses what she learns to design brain-machine interfaces employing nerve and muscle feedback that can help restore movement control in patients with damaged sensorimotor systems.

Yakun Sophia Shao, assistant professor and SK Hynix Faculty Fellow in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. Shao conducts research on computer architecture, with a special focus on improving the performance of computing platforms through hardware acceleration. The work would benefit a variety of systems, such as robotics and self-driving cars.

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