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Boston Researchers Named Finalists for Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists


Two Boston-based researchers who are trying to improve healthcare could gain some serious recognition. Jeremiah Johnson, Ph.D., polymer chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Emily Balskus, Ph.D., chemical biologist at Harvard University, are two of the 31 finalists for the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists.

The awards honor America’s most innovative young faculty-rank scientists and engineers to celebrate the accomplishments and future potential of faculty members working in three disciplinary categories: Life sciences, physical sciences and engineering and chemistry.

One nominee in each category with be named a Blavatnik Laureate and awarded $250,000 in unrestricted funds.

Emily Balskus, Harvard

Balskus’s research is focused on identifying the chemistry of the human gut microbiome and deciphering its roles in human health and disease. At the Balskus lab, researchers are uncovering new metabolic pathways and enzymes in microbial genome sequencing data. The goal of the group is to discover, understand and manipulate microbial metabolism.

In one of her top achievements, Balskus elucidated the mechanisms by which cancer-associated gut bacterial toxins are biosynthesized and interact with host cells in the gut.

She joined the chemistry and chemical biology faculty at Harvard University in 2011 and is an associate member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and is a faculty associate of the Microbial Sciences Initiative at Harvard.

In 2011, Balskus received the Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research. In 2012, she received the National Institute of Health Director’s New Innovator award.

Jeremiah Johnson, MIT

Johnson’s research focuses on the design and synthesis of new macromolecules for applications at the interface of medicine, biology and materials science. He developed a method for quantitatively predicting mechanical and elastic properties of network polymers. Johnson’s methods find applications in in vivo drug delivery and imaging, catalysis, additive manufacturing and sustainable materials.

In 2018, Johnson was named co-recipient of the Biomacromolecules/Macromolecules Young Investigator Award for his contributions in developing methods for polymer synthesis that provide macromolecules with novel functions in polymer physics.

That same year, Johnson received the Nobel Laureate Signature Award for graduate education in chemistry.

Prior to his work at MIT, Johnson served as a postdoctoral scholar at Beckman Institute and did graduate research at Columbia University and the Scripps Research Institute.

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