Four University of Chicago scientists awarded Sloan Fellowships

Early-career faculty identified as field’s most promising scholars

Four University of Chicago faculty members have earned prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships, awarded to early-career scholars whose achievements and potential mark them as the next scientific leaders.

They include a biologist seeking to understand how the brain makes decisions; a geologist exploring the composition of ancient oceans; a chemist understanding and inventing new catalysts; and a statistician developing tools that could help lead to personalized disease diagnosis.

Given annually since 1955 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the fellowships 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. Each of this year’s 126 winners, announced Feb. 19, receive a two-year, $70,000 grant to further their innovative research.

John Anderson is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry whose research work centers on transition metal chemistry. His lab of synthetic inorganic chemists seeks to study these systems with two main goals. The first is to use them as tools to understand some of the fundamental properties that govern enzymatic transformations in nature. The second is use the understanding to create new molecules and materials; these might include catalysts for difficult processes, new transition metal complexes and strongly coupled metal-organic frameworks.

Anderson joined the UChicago faculty in 2015.

Clara Blättler, an assistant professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences, uses geochemical tools to explore the interactions between the oceans, sediments, the rock cycle and the climate system. Her research focuses include sedimentary geochemistry, Earth history, the carbon cycle, paleoceanography, and paleoclimatology, which leads her to work with geological samples of many different ages, locations and environments. She particularly focuses on the sedimentary archives of carbonate minerals and evaporites—the deposits left behind by bodies of water as they evaporate, which can be used to understand ancient seawater.

Blättler joined the UChicago faculty in 2018.

Mengjie Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Genetics, is a computational biologist and statistician whose research bridges statistical methodological advances and biomedical applications. She and her group develop computational methods and open-source tools to address challenges posed by high-throughput genomics technologies for data analysis and interpretation. The ultimate goal is to develop methods that can integrate genomic features into the prediction of clinical outcomes, which will potentially shed new light on personalized disease diagnosis and prognosis.

Chen joined the UChicago faculty in 2016.

Matthew Kaufman, an assistant professor in the Department of Organismal Biology & Anatomy, specializes in the neuroscience of decision-making and movement control. His laboratory uses experimental and computational techniques to understand how large numbers of brain cells work together to categorize stimuli and generate precise muscle command signals.

Currently, his group is working to determine how information is transformed as it is passed between different brain areas. Researchers use advanced imaging techniques to record from thousands of brain cells in awake, behaving mice as they make decisions. Kaufman then develops novel analytical techniques that he applies to these data to reveal the computations that these neural circuits perform.

Kaufman joined the UChicago faculty in 2018.