Searle Scholars Program names 15 scientists as Searle Scholars for 2020

Members of the new class of Searle Scholars pursue ground-breaking research in chemistry and the biomedical sciences. Each receives an award of $300,000 in flexible funding to support his, her, or their work over the next three years.

The Searle Scholars Program makes grants to selected universities and research centers to support the independent research of exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry who have recently been appointed as assistant professors on a tenure-track appointment. The Program’s Scientific Director appoints an Advisory Board of eminent scientists who choose the Scholars based on rigorous standards aimed at finding the most creative talent interested in pursuing an academic research career. This year, 199 applications were considered from nominations by 139 universities and research institutions.

“These fifteen young chemists and biomedical scientists, who were selected by our Scientific Advisory Board in a highly competitive process, will pursue bold programs that will change the directions of their respective fields,” remarked Milan Mrksich, Scientific Director for the Searle Scholars Program. The topics these scientists are pursuing include:

  • How does the brain shift its functional properties to maintain sleep, wake, attentional, and affective states, and how can this knowledge lead to treatments for psychiatric disorders
  • How does memory T cell differentiation and function in the barrier mucosae work, leading to better vaccines and therapies?
  • How do archaea produce and consume the greenhouse gas methane, and how can they be engineered to address environmental and biotechnological challenges
  • How can the design of protein sensors for specific analytes be used in biomedical imaging and diagnostics

These programs are exciting both for the fundamental insights they will reveal, and for the potential they have to improve health. “At a time when our world is facing an unprecedented challenge with the COVID pandemic, we are humbled by the trust that the public and government has placed in science to develop the diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines that will return our lives to normal. Indeed, we are proud of the many ways our past and present Scholars are leading this effort and are serving society in profound ways,” Mrksich added.

Since 1981, 632 scientists have been named Searle Scholars. Including this year, the Program has awarded more than $143 million. Eighty-five Searle Scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Nineteen Scholars have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grant,” and a Searle Scholar has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

About the Searle Scholars Program

The Searle Scholars Program supports high risk, high reward research across a broad range of scientific disciplines. Grants are $300,000 for a three-year term with $100,000 payable each year of the grant. The Searle Scholars Program is funded through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and administered by Kinship Foundation, the private operating foundation that manages the institutional philanthropy of the Searle Family. For more information about the Searle Scholars Program visit


2020 class of Searle Scholars:

Dr. Britt Adamson

Princeton University

Mapping the Processes of Genome Editing in Human Cells


Dr. Lalit Beura

Brown University

Adaptation of resident memory CD8 T lymphocytes in the reproductive mucosa


Dr. Hachung Chung

Columbia University

Investigating the mechanism of intrinsic type I IFN production and regulation in the brain


Dr. Daria Esterhazy

University of Chicago

Duodenal control of pancreatic immunity via shared lymphatic drainage


Dr. Mark A. Herzik

University of California, San Diego

Towards an atomistic understanding of mitochondrial protein biogenesis


Dr. Hidehiko Inagaki

Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

Neuronal Mechanisms to Time Actions


Dr. Sung Soo Kim

University of California, Santa Barbara

Neural Circuit Mechanisms Underlying Dynamic Stimulus Selection


Dr. Sangjin Kim

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Dynamic DNA allostery: a novel type of allostery for transcription and beyond


Dr. Laura D. Lewis

Boston University

Neuromodulation of neural dynamics and perception across sleep and wakefulness


Dr. Dipti Nayak

University of California, Berkeley

CRISPR guided insights into the physiology and evolution of methane metabolizing archaea


Dr. Lisa Olshansky

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Biological Contrast Agents for Analyte-Specific Magnetic Resonance Imaging


Dr. Lauren L. Orefice

Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Peripheral sensory neuron dysfunction: Emerging roles in autism spectrum disorders


Dr. Upasna Sharma

University of California, Santa Cruz

Sperm RNA-mediated intergenerational epigenetic inheritance


Dr. Amy E. Shyer

The Rockefeller University

A multi-scale analysis of mechanics during skeletal morphogenesis


Dr. Xiao Wang

Broad Institute

Visualizing and understanding RNA modifications in brain function by in situ sequencing