Three Caltech professors have been awarded 2022 Sloan Research Fellowships: Assistant Professor of Physics Katerina Chatziioannou; Assistant Professor of Chemistry Maxwell Robb; and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Lu Wei.
Awarded annually since 1955 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the awards "honor extraordinary U.S. and Canadian researchers whose creativity, innovation, and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of leaders," according to the foundation's announcement. This year, the foundation honored 118 early career researchers with the fellowships. More than 150 Caltech researchers have received the awards in total.
Chatziioannou, who is from Greece, earned her undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Athens and her PhD in physics from Montana State University. Chatziioannou studies the properties of gravitational waves and the general theory of relativity using data from space- and ground-based observatories, in particular LIGO, which made history in 2015 after making the first direct detection of gravitational waves. Chatziioannou is interested in the physics of extremely dense objects in space, such as black holes and neutron stars, which emit gravitational waves as they spiral together and merge. One of her goals is to use these gravitational waves from collisions of neutron stars to study what happens when matter is pushed to extreme densities and temperatures. Last year, she was named a William H. Hurt Scholar.
Robb grew up in Colorado and earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines in 2009, and his PhD in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014. He specializes in designing polymers that respond to external triggers, primarily mechanical force. For example, his group has developed polymers that have the ability to release molecular cargo, such as medicine, in response to mechanical forces generated with ultrasound. (A polymer is a long chain of molecules, which Robb likens to a spaghetti noodle in a Q&A about his work.) His research also has applications in designing materials that signal damage through a change in color. These materials could, for instance, be incorporated into protective equipment like helmets to indicate the severity of a head impact, or be placed into plastic parts that warn of impending failure.
Wei is from the city of Wuhan in central China. She received her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Nanjing University in 2010 and her PhD in chemistry from Columbia University in 2015. Wei's research focuses on innovative spectroscopy and microscopy tools for imaging cells and tracking molecules within cells in real time. She uses a technique called vibrational microscopy, in which chemical tags that vibrate at certain frequencies are added to small biomolecules. The tags then enable the small molecules to be visualized in living cells with high precision. Wei says she and others will use these tools to visualize and elucidate the complex environments of biological samples, such as brain tissues, and to look for changes in the tissues that occur in diseased states, such as in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. She is also a Heritage Medical Research Institute investigator.