Sloan Foundation awards research fellowships to five UChicago scholars

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded five UChicago faculty members 2016 Sloan Research Fellowships: Rina Foygel Barber, assistant professor of statistics; Loukas Karabarbounis, associate professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business; Neale Mahoney, assistant professor of economics at Chicago Booth; Engin Özkan, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular biology; and Bozhi Tian, assistant professor of chemistry.

This year’s 126 Sloan Research Fellows come from 52 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. The fellowships honor early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars: the next generation of scientific leaders. Fellows receive $50,000 to further their research.

Rina Foygel Barber, MS’09, PhD’12, specializes in the development and analysis of methods that attempt to uncover hidden patterns and structure in data sets that might be large, incomplete, messy or uninterpretable. Her focus is on the mathematical theory behind these problems, while also testing methods on real data from genetics and other domains for problems such as sparse regression, graphical models, nonparametric models, low rank matrix estimation and principal component analysis, and the trade-off between privacy and statistical accuracy.

Barber also works on applications in medical imaging, developing statistical and computational tools for image reconstruction in computed tomography, and other imaging technologies, where large-scale, non-convex optimization problems pose a unique challenge. 

Before joining the UChicago faculty in 2014, Barber was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in Stanford University’s Department of Statistics.

Loukas Karabarbounis is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a senior research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and an associate editor at the Journal of Monetary Economics.

As a macroeconomist and public policy scholar, Karabarbounis studies labor markets, inequality, business cycles and international finance. His latest research focuses on topics such as the global decline of labor’s share of income, productivity and capital flows in southern Europe, and the effects of unemployment insurance policy on aggregate outcomes. His research has been published or is forthcoming in leading academic journals such as the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy and the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Karabarbounis joined the Chicago Booth faculty in 2010.

Neale Mahoney is also a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Mahoney is an applied microeconomist focusing on health insurance and consumer credit markets. In his research on health insurance, he has examined asymmetric information, market power, and the interaction between health insurance and personal bankruptcy. In his research on consumer credit markets, he has examined the regulation of credit card fees. His research has been published in the American Economic Review and Quarterly Journal of Economics, and appeared in The Economist, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Before joining Chicago Booth in 2013, Mahoney was a Robert Wood Johnson Fellow in health policy research at Harvard University. He also has worked at McKinsey & Company and as an economist focused on health care reform for the Obama administration.

Engin Özkan studies the molecular principles of development in multicellular organisms, with an emphasis on the nervous system, axon guidance and synapse formation. His research aims to improve our understanding of how connections within the brain are formed, which has the potential to explain the impact of neural miswiring in certain neurological and mental disorders. To that end, his laboratory combines structural, functional and proteomic methodologies to reveal the basis of how the nervous system wires its circuitry.

Özkan studied protein pathways and interactions in the laboratory of Nobel laureate Johann Deisenhofer at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, where he focused on the discovery and structure-function relationships of neuronal cell surface receptors. He is a Klingenstein-Simons Neuroscience Fellow, and a member of the Society for Neuroscience and American Crystallographic Association. Özkan joined the UChicago faculty in 2014.

Bozhi Tian explores the materials science connection between biological and physical sciences. Tian, who joined the UChicago faculty in 2012, focuses on synthetic cellular interactions, nanoelectronic exploration of cellular systems, and development of biomimetic nanoscale materials and devices.

Tian’s lab is particularly interested in studying sub-cellular biophysics with semiconductor materials and devices as the tool. To enable this study, Tian already has developed multiple innovative methods for establishing silicon materials that show enhanced mechanical interactions with cytoskeletal systems, extracellular matrix and cellular membranes.

In 2015, Tian was recognized as an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator for his studies of silicon-cytoskeleton interfaces. In 2013, Tian was named a Searle Scholar, an honor that includes support to pursue innovative electrical therapy research. That same year he also received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Development CAREER Award. In 2012, MIT Technology Review magazine designated Tian as one of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35 in emerging fields of science and technology. Tian joined the UChicago faculty in 2012.

Awarded in eight scientific and technical fields—chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences and physics—the Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded in close coordination with the scientific community. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists, and winning fellows are selected by an independent panel of senior scholars on the basis of a candidate’s independent research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in his or her field.