Searle Scholars Program names 15 scientists as Searle Scholars for 2021

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, 191 applications were considered from nominations by 137 universities and research institutions. 


“Our Scientific Advisory Board has identified 15 outstanding young scientists, whose work brings new perspectives to important questions in genetics, immunology, neurobiology among other areas, and that will lead to new fields of study,” remarked Milan Mrksich, Scientific Director for the Searle Scholars Program. The topics these scientists are pursuing include: 

  • How does the fly brain adjust wing movements thousands of times per second to maintain stable flight?
  • How does the body sense and respond to variations in oxygen levels, and how do oxygen levels contribute to age-associated conditions?
  • How does the proteomic network control the immune systems response to external pathogens and internal damage?
  • How does the brain learn complex behaviors, including speech, playing an instrument and movements in athletics?

Mrksich also notes that this year’s class is starting their independent careers in a challenging time but one that will see their work have a large impact for society; “As we emerge from the pandemic, and the many ways it has interrupted our lives and work, we recognize the role that science played in rapidly making available new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, and we know that today’s research will better prepare us for the next pandemic.”   


Since 1981, 647 scientists have been named Searle Scholars. Including this year, the Program has awarded more than $147 million. Eighty-five Searle Scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Twenty Scholars have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grant,” and two Searle Scholars have 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. For more information about the Searle Scholars Program visit


2021 class of Searle Scholars:


Dr. Ahmed Abdelfattah

Brown University

Optogenetic tools to record, trace, and manipulate brain circuits at cellular resolution


Dr. Fei Chen

The Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University

Spatial and temporal genomics tools for neurodevelopment


Dr. Bradley H. Dickerson

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mapping the neural circuits that control precision timing in behavior


Dr. Yun Ding

University of Pennsylvania

Evolutionary pattern of neural circuits in generating behavioral diversification


Dr. Vikram Gadagkar

The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York

Evaluating the Actions of Others: Neural Mechanisms of Mate Choice in Female Songbirds


Dr. Brooke Meghan Gardner

University of California, Santa Barbara

Dissecting the mechanisms of peroxisome homeostasis in human cells


Dr. Smita Gopinath

Harvard University and Harvard School of Public Health

Microbiome-immune interactions in the vaginal mucosa


Dr. Tyler Grove

Albert Einstein College Of Medicine

Investigations of the mechanistic and biological roles of Viperin and CMPK2


Dr. Isha H. Jain

Gladstone/University of California, San Francisco

EconoMetabolism - Matching Metabolic Supply and Demand for Vitamins


Dr. Sam Light

The University of Chicago

Developing a model of microbial metabolic interactions within the gut microbiota


Dr. Matthew Lovett-Barron

University of California, San Diego

Neural circuits for information sharing in schooling fish


Dr. Molly Schumer

Stanford University

Genetic collision: hybridization and its consequences


Dr. Weixin Tang

The University of Chicago

Quantitative, Base-Resolution Sequencing of the Epigenome and Epitranscriptome; An Evolved Enzyme-Enabled Platform for Resolving Epi-modifications with Cell Fate Specification


Dr. Ekaterina V. Vinogradova

The Rockefeller University

Chemical proteomic insights into cytokine release storm


Dr. Daniel Elger Wagner

University of California, San Francisco

Elucidating molecular mechanisms of pattern repair in zebrafish embryos