Two researchers, Martin Jonikas of Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology and Zhao Zhang of the Department of Embryology, have been awarded the New Innovator and Early Independence Awards, respectively, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Traditionally, NIH has supported research projects, not individuals. However, “to identify scientists with ideas that have the potential for high impact, but that may be too novel, span too diverse a range of disciplines, or be at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer review process” they created several awards to recognize individuals to accelerate  the scientific progress. The NIH Director’s Pioneer, New Innovator, and Transformative Research Award, encourage “outside-the-box thinkers” to pursue innovative ideas...” Martin Jonikas is the 2015 recipient of the New Innovator Award. Zhao Zhang receives another award in the High-Risk Research Program, the NIH Director's Early Independence Award (EIA).

Martin Jonikas is a Carnegie staff associate and an assistant professor by courtesy at Stanford University. He aims to transform our understanding of photosynthetic organisms by developing and applying cutting-edge tools. He studied aerospace engineering as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Jonikas then received his Ph.D. from UC-San Francisco working on high-throughput genetics and protein folding.

Zhao Zhang is a Junior Investigator at the Carnegie Department of Embryology. The Early Independence Award supports “exceptional investigators who wish to pursue independent research directly after completion of their terminal doctoral/research degree or clinical residency, thereby forgoing the traditional post-doctoral training period and accelerating their entry into an independent research career.”

Zhang studies how elements with the ability to “jump” around the genome, called transposons, are controlled in egg, sperm, and other tissues to understand how transposons contribute to genomic instability and to mutations that lead to inherited disease and cancer. To accomplish this work, Zhang frequently develops new tools and techniques.  Zhang received a B.S. in biotechnology from Shandong Agricultural University in Tai-an, China, and an M.S. in cell biology at Beijing Normal University. He was awarded a Ph.D. in November 2013 from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in interdisciplinary studies.

Wolf Frommer, director of Plant Biology remarked, “Martin is highly deserving of this award. His unique combination of engineering and biology shapes his out-of-the box thinking that this award supports. He is a tremendous asset to Carnegie and to science.”

Department of Embryology director Allan Spradling said, “We congratulate Zhao on this exceptional honor. It is particularly fitting because the NIH Early Independence Award program was inspired by our department’s staff associate program, which for more than thirty years has encouraged young researchers to pursue original, unconventional, and self-motivated research.”

“Andrew Carnegie envisioned supporting original thinkers like Martin and Zhao over 110 years ago,” said Carnegie president Matthew Scott. “It is gratifying to see that this vision is even more relevant today and that two of our researchers are recognized for their originality with these prestigious awards.” 

For more about the awards see http://commonfund.nih.gov/highrisk/overview

http://commonfund.nih.gov/earlyindependence/description#

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