Five UChicago scholars awarded Sloan Research Fellowships

Five UChicago faculty members have earned 2017 Sloan Research Fellowships: Bryan Dickinson, assistant professor of chemistry; Suriyanarayanan Vaikuntanathan, assistant professor of chemistry; Joseph Vavra, associate professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business; Abigail Vieregg, assistant professor of physics; and Alessandra Voena, associate professor of economics.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on Feb. 21 announced that it awarded fellowships to 126 early-career scholars in the United States and Canada, whose achievements and potential mark them as the next scientific leaders. Winners receive a $60,000 grant to further their research.

Fellowships, given annually since 1955, are awarded in close coordination with the scientific community. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists, and fellows are selected by an independent panel of senior scholars on the basis of a candidate’s independent research accomplishments, creativity and potential.

Bryan Dickinson focuses his research on creating technologies to measure and control biological systems. His laboratory employs synthetic organic chemistry, molecular evolution and synthetic biology approaches. His research program is motivated by the idea that innovative molecular technologies can spawn biological discovery.

Currently, his group is focused on three primary areas: small molecule approaches to interrogate how lipid modifications on proteins regulate metabolic signaling and disease; developing new evolutionary tools for the rapid creation of therapeutics; and creating new synthetic biology approaches to study and control cell signaling by RNAs and proteins. His team recently developed small molecule imaging reagents to discover a new type of dynamic lipid signaling with possible ramification in cancer and metabolic disease. His team also unveiled a completely new platform for creating biosensors for broad applications in biotechnology and molecular evolution.

Dickinson joined the UChicago faculty in 2014.

Suriyanarayanan Vaikuntanathan specializes in theoretical chemistry and biophysics. He and his group develop and use tools of statistical mechanics to study the behavior of complex systems in physical chemistry, soft condensed matter physics and biophysics.

His research seeks to uncover the fundamental principles that allow microscopic biophysical and chemical systems—such as collections of molecular motors—to robustly self-assemble and perform functions even in noisy conditions. For instance, Vaikuntanathan’s current work has demonstrated how non-equilibrium growth dynamics can be harnessed for novel material self-assembly as well as how information processing mechanisms in biophysical circuits can be protected against rogue fluctuations.

Vaikuntanathan joined the UChicago faculty in 2014.

Joseph S. Vavra is a macroeconomist who studies monetary economics, labor and computational economics, as well as the ways durable consumption responds to stimulus, and how prices respond to exchange rate movements. His current research argues that monetary policy is less effective during volatile recessions. His recent papers include “Regional Heterogeneity and Monetary Policy,” co-authored with Erik Hurst, Martin Beraja and Andreas Fuster, which finds that the Federal Reserve’s move to pump money into the economy provided the least amount of stimulus to the areas hit hardest by the recession.

Vavra also is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He joined the Chicago Booth faculty in 2012.

Abigail Vieregg is interested in answering questions about the nature of the universe at its highest energies through experimental work in particle astrophysics and cosmology. In particle astrophysics, she focuses on searching for the highest energy neutrinos that come from the most energetic sources in the universe. In cosmology, Vieregg works with a suite of telescopes at the South Pole to help determine what happened during the first moments after the Big Bang by measuring the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.

Vieregg was a NASA Earth and Space Sciences Graduate Fellow at UCLA and a National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Vieregg joined the UChicago faculty in 2014.

Alessandra Voena is a labor and development economist whose research focuses primarily on the economics of the family. Her recent work includes examining the effects of the 1996 United States welfare reform on marriage and divorce, household decision-making around fertility and education in Zambia, and the economic consequences of the cultural norms around marriage in sub-Saharan Africa, India and Asia.

Voena has published research in The American Economics Review including on the important role German-Jewish emigrants played on innovation in the United States. She is currently a faculty research fellow at National Bureau of Economic Research and served as a Ruffolo Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.

Voena joined the UChicago faculty in 2012.