2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards at the New York Academy of Sciences Gala

Celebrating New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut’s most extraordinary postdoctoral scientists, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Blavatnik Family Foundation honored the three Winners and six Finalists of the 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists during the Academy’s 16th Annual Gala held at Cipriani 25 Broadway in lower Manhattan on November 11, 2019. This year’s Gala, entitled “Mission Possible: Closing the Skills Gap”, focused on the Academy’s mission to build a STEM-powered workforce for the 21st century. The evening drew VIP guests from across the New York region, including leading representatives from industry, philanthropy, academia, and government, as well as several prominent scientists and members of the Blavatnik Regional Awards Jury.

Ellis Rubinstein, President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences, opened the ceremony and introduced keynote speaker Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, who spoke about the launch of a joint STEM skilling initiative between UNICEF and the New York Academy of Sciences. Next, Brooke Grindlinger, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer for Scientific Programs and Awards at the New York Academy of Sciences, hosted the Blavatnik Regional Awards portion of the Gala’s program, noting that “the Blavatnik Regional Awards are the model for what is today an international effort to drive the next generation of scientific innovation.” Peter Thorén, Executive Vice President of Access Industries and representative of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, congratulated and addressed the 2019 Blavatnik Regional Finalists and Winners: “You are pushing the boundaries of what we know and what we can do, and you are preparing the stage for future discoveries as the great scientists of the past have done for you.” The 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards competition received 137 nominations from 20 academic institutions in the tri-state area. Several of the Blavatnik Regional Awards honorees’ advisors, mentors, and institutions were represented in the Gala audience.

Mr. Thorén joined Dr. Grindlinger on stage to present each honoree with their medal. In the category of Life Sciences, The Rockefeller University made a clean sweep of the 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards, with postdoctoral scientists from The Rockefeller University honored as the Winner and two Finalists in Life Sciences. Dr. Grindlinger introduced Finalists, Carla Nasca, PhD and Liling Wan, PhD (who will move to the University of Pennsylvania in January 2020). 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards Winner, Laura Duvall, PhD, who was a trainee of 2007 Blavatnik Regional Award Faculty Winner, Leslie Vosshall, PhD, is currently an Assistant Professor at Columbia University. Dr. Duvall gave acceptance remarks that spoke to the importance of taking big risks in science: “I want to thank my postdoc mentor, Leslie Vosshall. She has pushed me to develop both my research skills at the bench and my professional career. One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned from Leslie is to have the confidence to strike out onto uncharted scientific territory to ask bold questions.”

Next, Dr. Grindlinger introduced the Chemistry honorees: Finalist Igor Dikiy, PhD, nominated by the Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center at CUNY, and Yaping Zang, PhD (honored in absentia), nominated by Columbia University. She invited 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards Winner in Chemistry, Juntao Ye, PhD, to the stage to give remarks. Dr. Ye was nominated for the Awards by Cornell University and is now an Associate Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He traveled to New York to accept his award. In his address Dr. Ye said, “This Award provides recognition and support at a time when I’m embarking on the next phase of my scientific career and starting my own research group.” Reflecting on the future of his field, Dr. Ye commented that, “It is my hope that advances in machine learning could help organic chemists solve challenging synthetic problems and accelerate the pace of drug discovery.”

In the third and final Blavatnik Regional Awards category, Physical Sciences & Engineering, Dr. Grindlinger introduced 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards Finalists Matthew Yankowitz, PhD, nominated by Columbia University (now at the University of Washington), and Derya Akkaynak, PhD, nominated by Princeton University (now at Harbor Branch Oceanographic institute). 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards Winner in Physical Sciences & Engineering, Netta Engelhardt, PhD, who was nominated by Princeton University and is currently an Assistant Professor at MIT, expressed gratitude for supporting the research of young scientists: “I am truly grateful that the fundamental science conducted by early-career scientists is being recognized and acknowledged.” She added, “for every breathtaking moment of discovery and understanding, there are days and months and sometimes years of hard labor; every revolutionary discovery stands on the foundation of decades of incremental progress, and every scientist is supported and encouraged by the generosity of others.”

Three short films were presented during the evening, each one showcasing the three honorees and their science in one of the disciplinary categories.

Life Scienceshttps://youtu.be/6QRfRvKEzeg
Physical Sciences & Engineeringhttps://youtu.be/Epi0y8WA6M0

The evening before the Gala, on November 10th, the Blavatnik Family Foundation hosted a cocktail reception at New York’s Metropolitan Club in honor of the 2019 Blavatnik Regional Awards Winners, Finalists, previous honorees, and judges.