The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists have a rich history in helping early-career researchers carry out ground-breaking science—from deciphering how memories are formed and stored in the brain, to targeting genetic mutations that drive the growth of aggressive cancers. The distinctive awards program, established with the vision of Len Blavatnik, founder and Chairman of Access Industries and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, is now celebrating its 10th anniversary, and launching an international expansion that promises many more milestones to come.
The New York Academy of Sciences has administered the Awards since their inception, when they focused on the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut tri-state area. The basic tenets of the awards are simple: Find brilliant researchers age 42 or under in chemistry, physical sciences and engineering, and life sciences, and award them financial support and exposure for their work.
"Young scientists represent the future of scientific thought,” Blavatnik says. “By honoring these young individuals and their achievements we are helping to promote the breakthroughs in science and technology that will define how our world will look in 20, 50, 100 years."
In 2014, the Blavatnik Family Foundation supported the expansion from a regional to a national program, recognizing academic researchers across the United States every year with awards of $250,000, one of the largest unrestricted prizes ever created for researchers under age 42. After seeing the success of the current Awards, the Foundation was keen to support even more young innovators. So the program recently expanded with two new sets of Awards in the United Kingdom and Israel. The Academy is delighted to be partnering with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to manage the Awards in Israel. Nominations for both new Awards will open on May 3, 2017, and the first Blavatnik UK and Israel Laureates will be honored in early 2018.
"We know that this kind of recognition is particularly important because of the focus on scientists at the crucial juncture of their career when they are transitioning from trainee to independent researcher," says Ellis Rubinstein, President and Chief Executive Officer at The New York Academy of Sciences. "Such recognition not only rewards past successes, it directly enables continued research—the kind of research that leads to world-changing discoveries."
During the Awards' first decade, more than 2,000 scientists and engineers were nominated from more than 200 institutions, with prizes totaling more than $4 million. But the honorees themselves are the most remarkable part of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists. Chosen for both their achievements to date and the potential of what's yet to come in their careers, the Awards aim to recognize truly outstanding scientists and engineers forging creative paths in research.
The downstream impact of supporting such exceptional honorees is clear. As Anthony Guiseppi-Elie, Professor and Division Director at Texas A&M University, who serves on the jury for the Awards, says, "We are, in fact, just touching the lives of a few, but those few have the capacity to influence whole new vistas of enquiry, and so the ripple effect is quite substantial."
Indeed, some immediate effects of the awards have arisen. Two generous inaugural Blavatnik National Awards Laureates, Adam Cohen and Marin Soljačić, chose to donate part of their prize winnings to support even younger scientists, and have established prizes of their own for talented students at Hunter College and high-schoolers in Croatia, respectively. Additionally, the annual Blavatnik Science Symposium has become a fertile environment for ideas and collaborations, with almost 200 scientists and engineers in the Blavatnik community and many nationalities represented. As this community expands to become international, the man whose vision established the Awards sees a bright future ahead.
“The best scientific research is collaborative, and we want our Blavatnik Scholars to be able to tap into the best talent around the world,” Blavatnik says. “I look forward to the next 10 years of funding and supporting exceptional young researchers and helping to promote transformative scientific discoveries.”