Two Petit Institute Researchers Named Sloan Fellows

<p>Bilal Haider</p>

Bilal Haider

Two researchers with the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at the Georgia Institute of Technology – Vinayak Agarwal and Bilal Haider – are among the 126 outstanding U.S. and Canadian researchers receiving 2018 Sloan Research Fellowships.

The fellowships, awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation since 1955, honor early-career scholars who, “represent the very best science has to offer,” says Sloan President Adam Falk. “The brightest minds, tackling the hardest problems, and succeeding brilliantly—Fellows are quite literally the future of twenty-first century science.”

Agarwal, assistant professor in the School of Chemistry, is interested in studying small organic molecules called ‘natural products,’ from which a majority of antibiotics and other drugs are derived. As biochemists, his research team asks some simple questions: how and why are natural products made in nature, what can be learned from their biosynthetic processes, and how nature’s synthetic capabilities be exploited for interesting applications?

Haider, is assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. His research goal is to identify cellular and circuit mechanisms that modulate neural responsiveness in the cerebral cortex, using a variety of advanced electrical and optical techniques to record, stimulate, and the interpret the activity of specific neuronal sub-types.

But the two-year, $65,000 Sloan award doesn’t support a specific research project effort, according to Haider says. It supports the individual.

“It’s very exciting because it’s different from a traditional kind of grant. This is more about the research direction you have envisioned as a young investigator,” he says. “This is about funding the person. It’s a real vote of confidence.”

Sloan also recognized a third Georgia Tech researcher, Lutz Warnke, assistant professor in the School of Mathematics. A full list of the 2018 Fellows is available at the Sloan Foundation website.

Available to tenure track faculty in eight scientific fields, the Fellowships are awarded at a key moment in a researcher’s career. Past Sloan Research Fellows include towering figures in the history of science, including physicists Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann, and game theorist John Nash. Forty-five fellows have received a Nobel Prize in their respective field, 16 have won the Fields Medal in mathematics, 69 have received the National Medal of Science, and 17 have won the John Bates Clark Medal in economics, including every winner since 2007.

Drawn this year from 53 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada, the 2018 Sloan Research Fellows represent a diverse array of institutions and backgrounds. This year’s Fellows include:

  • A molecular biologist who studies how birds perceive color;
  • A chemist who has developed molecular “printing” techniques that can make flexible solar cells that are twice as efficient as current models;
  • A computer scientist who is constructing robots for the home that users can program themselves;
  • An environmental economist who is exposing the hidden costs of pollution;
  • A mathematician who is trying to explain the remarkable success of neural networks in performing complicated tasks like recognizing faces;
  • A neuroscientist whose work is revealing that best friends don’t just think alike; they have similar brains;
  • An ocean scientist that has shown how warming currents are leading many marine species to breed early, bringing them out of sync with the plankton blooms on which they feed;
  • A physicist who says the structure of the outer solar system makes sense only if there is an undiscovered ninth planet.

Open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields—chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics—the Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded in close coordination with the scientific community. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists and winning fellows are selected by an independent panel of senior scholars in their field on the basis of a candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity, and potential to become a leader in his or her field.


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 economics.

<p>Vinayak Agarwal</p>

Vinayak Agarwal

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Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience