Four UCSC Researchers Earn Prestigious Sloan Fellowships

February 26, 1997

Author: Robert Irion

Tim Stephens
UCSC Public Information Office

SANTA CRUZ, CA: Four young scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, are among 100 recipients nationwide of 1997 fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation of New York. Each prestigious fellowship is worth $35,000 over a two-year period.

The winners, all of whom have joined the UCSC faculty within the last four years, are Andrew Chisholm and Yishi Jin, both assistant professors of biology; Puragra Guhathakurta, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics; and Joseph Puglisi, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Just six other institutions received four or more Sloan Fellowships this year: UC Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, six each; Columbia University, Cornell University, and UCLA, five each; and UC San Diego, four recipients.

Since 1955, the Sloan Foundation has awarded more than $75 million to about 3,200 researchers, 21 of whom have gone on to earn Nobel Prizes. The awards recognize exceptional young talent in the fields of chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, and physics. Sloan scholars are free to use the funds to pursue any lines of scientific inquiry they choose, a flexibility that often proves vital in burgeoning research careers.

Panels of leading researchers selected the 1997 fellowship winners from about 450 nominees put forward by department chairs and other senior scientists. The average age of the 100 recipients is 32 years.

Following are thumbnail sketches of the UCSC Sloan Fellows:

Andrew Chisholm, age 31, and Yishi Jin, age 34, are developmental biologists. They received two of the 16 Sloan Fellowships awarded this year in neuroscience. Both researchers use the nematode worm C. elegans as a model animal to explore the complex process of development from embryo to mature organism. Chisholm studies how patterns form in the worm's body, especially in the head region, the body's most complex area. Jin's interest is the genetic basis of how neurons develop in C. elegans. In particular, she explores how neurons make the correct contacts with each other and with the muscles they control. Because the genes responsible for these patterns and neural pathways are similar in all animals, the research helps probe development in humans.

Chisholm holds a B.A. in biology from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in genetics from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. Jin earned her B.S. in cell biology from Beijing University and her Ph.D. in developmental biology from UC Berkeley. Both worked for several years as postdoctoral researchers at MIT. They came to UCSC in 1996.

Puragra Guhathakurta, age 35, is an observational astronomer at the UC Observatories/Lick Observatory. He studies faint stars and galaxies, globular clusters, gravitational lensing, new comets, and other phenomena. A frequent user of the W. M. Keck Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, Guhathakurta was an assistant astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute before joining the UCSC faculty in 1994. He received his B.S. in physics from St. Xavier’s College in Calcutta, India, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in astrophysics from Princeton University. He held postdoctoral positions at Princeton and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Joseph Puglisi, age 34, also holds a fellowship from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, worth $100,000 per year for five years. His research concerns the structure and function of the biological molecule RNA, a cousin of DNA. In particular, he examines how RNA interacts with other molecules, such as antibiotics. A better grasp of these interactions ultimately may help researchers design more effective drugs. Puglisi earned his B.A. in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University and his Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry from UC Berkeley. He came to UCSC in 1993 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT.

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