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BC Researchers Win Four 2012 Sloan Fellowships

Awards Recognize Scientists and Scholars Deemed 'Rising Stars'


Chestnut Hill, Mass. (2-15-12) In a coup for a university without a medical or engineering school, four Boston College faculty members have received prestigious 2012 Sloan Research Fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Assistant Professor of Biology Michelle Meyer, Assistant Professor of Physics Ying Ran, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang and Assistant Professor of Psychology Liane Young were among the 126 researchers recognized by the foundation with the two-year, $50,000 awards, which are given annually to early-career scientists and scholars identified as the next generation of leading researchers.

"It is unprecedented for a university of our size, without a medical or engineering school, to receive four Sloan Research Fellowships in one year," said Provost and Dean of Faculties Cutberto Garza. "This recognition is a testament to the caliber of researchers Boston College has hired in recent years."

With four awards, BC led Massachusetts colleges and universities, followed by Boston University (3), Harvard (3), MIT (3) and UMass Amherst (1).

“Today’s Sloan Research Fellows are tomorrow’s Nobel Prize winners,” said Dr. Paul L. Joskow, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “These outstanding men and women are responsible for some of the most exciting science being done today. The Foundation is proud to support them during this pivotal stage of their careers.”

2012 Sloan Research Fellows
Clockwise from top left: Michelle Meyer,
Ying Ran, Dunwei Wang, Liane Young

"Michelle, Ying, Dunwei, and Liane are each doing world-class research and together represent a remarkable cohort of talented junior faculty in Arts and Sciences,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean David Quigley. “I'm enormously proud of their individual contributions and look forward to even greater things as their Boston College careers develop."

Drawn from 51 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada, the 2012 Sloan Research Fellows represent a variety of research interests. (A full list is available here.)

At BC, Assistant Professor of Biology Michelle Meyer’s comparative genomics research focuses on computational biology, the discovery and validation of non-coding RNA, and the molecular evolution of RNA and protein structures.

Her proposal to the foundation focused on work researchers in her lab are doing to learn more about how RNA molecules adapt much more quickly than proteins to mutational change. Discoveries in this area could one day contribute to a growing body of research seeking to develop targeted antibiotics and other therapies.

“I am very honored to be selected by the Sloan Foundation,” said Meyer, who earned her PhD at the California Institute of Technology. “Receiving an honor like this is an amazing opportunity. I’m grateful to the Sloan Foundation for dedicating support to fundamental science and making these opportunities available to researchers like me.”

Assistant Professor of Physics Ying Ran, who earned his doctorate from MIT, is a theoretical physicist whose primary research interests lay in quantum condensed matter theory, in particular the discovery of novel properties that transcend the traditional understanding of matter. His work looks at the potential of materials such as high temperature superconductors, “frustrated” magnets and topological insulators.

“I am very excited and grateful for this award,” said Ran. “My work will continue to focus on doing good, basic science in order to live up to this honor.”

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang’s research has focused on the science of clean energy conversion and storage. In particular, Wang’s experimental work has developed new nanostructures and sheds new light on how these novel materials’ influence their physical, particularly electrical, properties.

Wang’s lab has developed a web-like Nanonet structure that provides added surface area and increased electrical efficiency. Wang’s Nanonets have made advances in harvesting hydrogen through a process known as water splitting, and demonstrated a potential role in the design of future generations of lithium-ion batteries. Wang, who earned his doctorate from Stanford University, has received numerous awards, including a National Science Foundation Career Award last year.

“I’m really happy about this and very appreciative of the Sloan Foundation for this recognition,” said Wang. “The grant will help us continue with our work to develop the next generation of clean energy technologies.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology Liane Young, who holds a doctoral degree from Harvard University, joined the BC faculty in 2011. Her research focuses on the psychology and neuroscience of moral judgment and behavior.

Earlier this year, she was named a Dana Neuroscience Scholar by the Dana Foundation, which also awarded her a three-year grant to support her study of brain activity and moral decision-making in individuals with autism, a project that will provide a valuable research opportunity for BC undergraduates. In addition, she received the 2011 Early Career Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Social Neuroscience from the Society for Social Neuroscience, among other honors.

“I'm very grateful to the Sloan Foundation for their recognition of my ongoing work on the cognitive and neural basis of human moral judgment," said Young. "It's such an honor in what's been a really wonderful first year at Boston College. My lab and I are excited to push our research in new directions during my tenure as a Sloan Fellow."

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant making institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economic performance. For more information: www.sloan.org

--Ed Hayward, Patricia Delaney, Office of News & Public Affairs