On Monday, September 23, 2019, the Blavatnik Family Foundation hosted the sixth annual Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists Ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Over 225 guests attended including some of the country’s most prominent figures in science, business, and philanthropy.
Martha E. Pollack, PhD, President of Cornell University and a computer scientist, served as the Master of Ceremonies, and the Juilliard School Orchestra performed classical music arrangements throughout the evening. The ceremony began with President Pollack naming the 31 2019 Blavatnik National Awards Finalists selected from 343 nominations submitted by 168 research institutions across 44 States. President Pollack noted that “the 31 Finalists of the 2019 Blavatnik National Awards represent one of the most diverse arrays of scientists in the history of these honors. They hail from eleven different nations … from Colombia to China, Iran to India, Singapore to Slovenia, and from all across the United States. They join what is now a global community of 284 Blavatnik Scholars, working in 35 different scientific disciplines, and representing 45 different countries. And over the years, there have been 90 women honored as Blavatnik Scholars, including nine tonight.” Since the Awards’ inception in 2007, over US$8.4 million have been awarded to Blavatnik Awards honorees.
Later in the evening, the three 2019 Blavatnik National Awards Laureates were presented with their medals by Len Blavatnik, the Founder and Chairman of Access Industries and the Blavatnik Family Foundation. Each Laureate also gave a short presentation on their research.
After accepting her medal, Life Sciences Laureate and quantitative ecologist, Heather J. Lynch, PhD, spoke about her research on penguin populations. Utilizing a plethora of sophisticated techniques—including cutting-edge statistics, mathematical models, satellite remote sensing, and Antarctic field biology—Lynch aims to understand the spatial and temporal patterns of penguin colonies to predict population growth, collapse, and possible extinction. Her former post-doc advisor, William Fagan, PhD, Chair of the Department of Ecology at the University of Maryland, College Park said, “Heather is simultaneously cutting-edge in three to four different areas and that package is what makes Heather stand out, even among elite scientists. Heather is going to be one of the scientific leaders of her generation.”
Physical Sciences & Engineering Laureate, Ana Maria Rey, PhD—a quantum physicist from the University Colorado Boulder and Fellow at JILA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—was next to accept her medal. The Blavatnik National Awards honored Rey for her pioneering contributions to the field of theoretical atomic, molecular, and optical physics, including her paradigm-shifting theories on atomic collisions that led directly to the development of the world’s most precise atomic clock. Her mentor and friend Jun Ye, PhD, a Professor Adjoint in Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and a Fellow at JILA and NIST, praised Rey by stating, “Ana Maria is an amazing scientist … she is very creative and collaborative, and she is very capable of solving problems ranging from practical to very deep scientific theoretical problems.”
Finally, after Chemistry Laureate Emily Balskus, PhD from Harvard University accepted her medal for her transformative work in chemical biology, she spoke about the novel chemistry of the gut microbiome and her research deciphering its role in human health and disease. She highlighted a range of discoveries from her group including their work identifying a proposed structure for colibactin, a molecule produced by the gut microbiome and thought to cause colon cancer. “Emily is a pioneer. The future of human health needs Emily’s research,” commented Catherine Drennan, PhD, Balskus’s collaborator and mentor and a Professor of Biology and Chemistry at MIT and an HHMI Investigator.
Distinguished guests attending this year’s ceremony included 2017 Nobel Laureate Michael Rosbash of Brandeis University, New York University President Andrew Hamilton, Tel Aviv University President Ariel Porat, Yale University President Peter Salovey, Interim President of Stony Brook University Michael Bernstein, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory President and CEO Bruce Stillman, President of the New York Academy of Sciences Ellis Rubinstein, President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities Nili Cohen, Paul Singer of Elliott Management, former Citigroup Chairman Sandy Weill, Charles Hale of Hale Global, Sig Heller of Perella Weinberg Partners, Avi Fischer of Clal Industries, and John Skipper, Executive Chairman of DAZN Group.