Newswise — The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the most promising innovators in science and technology, has announced 18 recipients of the 2024 Hertz Fellowships in applied science, engineering and mathematics.

The Hertz Fellowship is the most prestigious doctoral fellowship program of its kind. Hertz Fellows receive five years of funding, offering flexibility from the traditional constraints of graduate training and the independence needed to pursue research that best advances our nation’s security and economic vitality. The 2024 Hertz Fellows are pursuing solutions to some of our most urgent challenges, including developing advanced therapeutics, enhancing spaceflight capabilities, designing safer artificial intelligence (AI) systems, and predicting the spread of infectious diseases. 

“For more than 60 years, Hertz Fellows have led scientific and technical innovation in national security, applied biological sciences, materials research, artificial intelligence, space exploration and more. Their contributions have been essential in advancing U.S. competitiveness,” said Stephen Fantone, chair of the Hertz Foundation board of directors and founder and president of Optikos Corporation. “I’m excited to watch our newest Hertz Fellows as they pursue challenging research and continue the strong tradition of applying their work for the greater good.”

In addition to financial support, Hertz Fellows gain access to lifelong programming, such as mentoring, events and networking, which has led them to form research collaborations, commercialize technology, and create and invest in early-stage companies together. Fellows also benefit from partnerships with influential organizations in science, technology, national security and philanthropy, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationHertz Corporation and the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group.

The newest class will join an influential network of more than 1,300 Hertz Fellows worldwide who are responsible for some of the most significant scientific and technological progress of the past century, from the recent launch of the James Webb Space Telescope to the development of global defense networks and from advanced medical therapies to computational systems that billions of people use every day. 

“The 2024 Hertz Fellows embody the kind of transformative scientific talent needed to make an enduring impact on our nation and the world,” said Robbee Baker Kosak, president of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. “We are proud to welcome them to the community of visionary researchers that the Hertz Foundation has supported for more than six decades.”  

The Hertz Foundation is dedicated to expanding and accelerating the U.S. pipeline of scientific and technical leadership. Through a rigorous and time-tested selection process, led by Hertz Fellows Philip Welkhoff, director of the malaria program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Anna Bershteyn, associate professor of population health at New York University, the Hertz Fellowship identifies doctoral students with the extraordinary creativity and principled leadership necessary to tackle problems others can’t solve. 

“This cohort truly exemplifies all the great characteristics we look for in Hertz Fellows: creativity, curiosity, an integrated web of knowledge, ambition to make an impact, a focus on challenges on the frontiers of applied science, grit, and so much more,” said Welkhoff. “While these characteristics are consistent, I am always amazed at the unique and individual ways each new Hertz Fellow demonstrates them. Each individual’s unique mix of strengths and perspectives adds a new spark to the community of Hertz Fellows, leading to a lasting impact that is greater than the sum of their parts.”

“This year’s Hertz Fellows are nothing short of incredible — and humanity needs their brilliance more than ever,” added Bershteyn. “I expect the Hertz Fellowship will change their lives as profoundly as it changed mine.”

Among past Hertz Fellow recipients are Nobel laureate John Mather, a NASA astrophysicist and project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope; Kimberly Budil, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Nathan Myhrvold, founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures, founding director of Microsoft Research, and former chief technology officer at Microsoft; Kathleen Fisher, deputy office director for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Information Innovation Office; and Dario Amodei and Jared Kaplan, co-founders of Anthropic, an AI safety and research company.

Over the foundation’s 60-year history of awarding fellowships, more than 1,300 Hertz Fellows have established a remarkable track record of accomplishments. Their ranks include two Nobel laureates; recipients of 10 Breakthrough Prizes and three MacArthur Foundation “genius awards”; and winners of the Turing Award, the Fields Medal, the National Medal of Technology, the National Medal of Science, and the Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award. In addition, 52 are members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and 37 are fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hertz Fellows hold over 3,000 patents, have founded more than 375 companies, and have created hundreds of thousands of science and technology jobs.

Introducing the 2024 Hertz Fellows

Fellows are listed with their graduate university affiliations and fields of interest. 

Emmy Blumenthal
Princeton University | Physics

Emmy Blumenthal investigates emergent phenomena in ecological models by developing and extending theoretical techniques from statistical physics. Their work seeks to expand the mathematical toolkit for analyzing complex systems with dense, disordered interactions. They are currently a biophysics theory post-baccalaureate researcher at Boston University (BU). Blumenthal graduated with a bachelor’s in mathematics and physics from BU, where they uncovered and explained new phenomena and perspectives in ecological models, including the discovery of a phase transition in ecological communities experiencing non-reciprocal interactions with their environment, leading to chaotic dynamics. Blumenthal will be attending Princeton University for a doctorate in physics. Full Biography

Virginia Canestraight
Harvard University | Electrochemical Engineering

Virginia Canestraight plans to study sustainable electrocatalytic systems to accelerate the decarbonization of carbon intensive chemical syntheses. She will receive her bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in spring 2024. There, she studied the effects of mass transport on electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction with Professor Jonas Peters. Combined with her experience in scaling direct ocean capture technology with startup Captura, Canestraight has a strong intuition for the intricate nature of chemical reactions, and the massive scale at which climate solutions must operate. She will attend Harvard University to pursue a doctorate in electrochemical engineering. Full Biography

Owen Dugan 
Stanford University | Computer Science

Owen Dugan researches at the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and physics, working to develop AI that enables breakthroughs in physics and to use physics techniques to design more capable and safer AI systems. He will attend Stanford University to pursue a doctorate in computer science. Dugan earned a bachelor’s in physics in two and a half years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research ranged from developing machine learning algorithms that automatically discover scientific theories to using concepts from physics to study linear sequence architectures for enhancing the speed of large language models. He was honored with MIT’s Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award for his contributions. Full Biography

Kaylie Hausknecht 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Physics 

Kaylie Hausknecht hopes to make novel contributions to research at the intersection of physics and machine learning by developing new computational tools for building simulations and analyzing data in the physical sciences. In her previous research projects, she has developed new machine learning techniques to solve problems across a variety of fields, including condensed matter physics, astrophysics and computational fluid dynamics. She is currently a senior at Harvard University studying physics and astrophysics, and she will start her doctoral program in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2024. As an undergraduate, Hausknecht completed five internships at NASA, where she contributed to the discovery of 301 new exoplanets in archival data from the Kepler Space Telescope. Full Biography

David Hoyos
Weill Cornell Medicine | Computational Biology and Medicine 

David Hoyos is a physicist addressing complex questions in viral and cancer evolution with the quantitative language of statistical mechanics and information theory. He is a doctoral student in Dr. Benjamin Greenbaum’s laboratory in Computational Oncology at the Tri-Institutional Program in Computational Biology and Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering and Rockefeller University. Hoyos received his bachelor’s in physics, with minors in applied and computational mathematics and biophysics from Princeton University. Full Biography

Calton Kong
University of California, Berkeley | Materials Science

Calton Kong is interested in clean energy and public policy. He aims to work toward the science and policy that will transform our grid and chemical manufacturing. He plans to craft policy to ensure that the benefits of new technologies are shared by all through a robust and organized labor force and public investment/redistribution. Kong received his bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. One of his biggest accomplishments was successfully driving CO2 reduction to methanol with light. He was born in San Jose, California, where he spent much of his childhood. He will pursue a doctorate in materials science from the University of California, Berkeley. Full Biography

Constance Kraay
Harvard University | Biophysics 

Constance Kraay uses a multidisciplinary approach to study the dynamic conformations of biomolecules and their interactions to advance drug discovery. She is particularly interested in developing innovative computational tools to identify molecules that modulate protein-protein interactions. She is a doctoral student in biophysics at Harvard University and a member of the Therapeutics Graduate Program at Harvard Medical School. She received concurrent bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Harvard in 2023, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Prior to transferring to Harvard in 2021, she completed two years of study in the Natural Sciences Tripos at the University of Cambridge. Full Biography

Andrew Laeuger
California Institute of Technology | Physics

Andrew Laeuger is a theoretical physicist who aims to predict the gravitational signatures of undiscovered physics. Such predictions will enable future searches for those phenomena in gravitational wave observations; if detected, an awareness of the underlying physics could open an entire new realm of technological possibilities. He is a doctoral student in physics at the California Institute of Technology. Full Biography

Drew Langford
Purdue University | Astrodynamics 

Drew Langford’s research focuses on applications of dynamical systems theory to understand the natural behavior of orbits and enhance spaceflight capabilities in multi-body gravitational environments. He intends to use his expertise in astrodynamics to contribute toward a sustainable cislunar presence and deliver scientific and economic opportunity to Earth. He is a doctoral student in astrodynamics at Purdue University and a member of the Multi-body Dynamics research group led by Professor Kathleen Howell. Prior to his doctoral work, he was awarded a master’s in astronomy from the University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s in physics. Full Biography

Elijah Lew-Smith
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Physics 

Elijah Lew-Smith is a theoretical physicist with broad intellectual interests focused around effective field theory (EFT). EFT is the study of systems with many interacting degrees of freedom, and it reveals how to extract the relevant, long-distance behavior from complicated microscopic rules. He will graduate from Brown University with a bachelor’s in physics and pursue a doctorate in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2023, he received a national award to work with Professor Andrew Lucas at the University of Colorado Boulder on applying EFT systematically to non-equilibrium and active systems such as fluctuating hydrodynamics or flocking birds. Full Biography

Rupert Li 
Stanford University | Mathematics

Rupert Li is a fourth-year dual bachelor’s and master’s student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in mathematics as well as computer science, data science and economics, and minoring in business analytics. He has written twelve math research articles, primarily in combinatorics, but also including discrete geometry, probability and harmonic analysis. Li was recognized for his work with a Barry Goldwater Scholarship and an honorable mention for the Morgan Prize, one of the highest undergraduate honors in mathematics. He was named a 2024 Marshall Scholar, and he intends to study abroad at Cambridge University for a year. He will begin a doctoral program in mathematics at Stanford University. Full Biography

Amani Maina-Kilaas
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Cognitive Science

Amani Maina-Kilaas is pursuing research in computational psycholinguistics in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. He is excited about using artificial intelligence as a scientific tool to study how the mind works, and using what we know about the mind to develop more cognitively realistic models. Maina-Kilaas is a first-year doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned his bachelor’s in computer science and mathematics from Harvey Mudd College. Full Biography

Zoë Marschner
Carnegie Mellon University | Computer Science

Zoë Marschner seeks to develop methods for the basic computations at the core of solving geometric problems on new and emerging representations of 3D shape, with the hope of making these representations capable of enabling fundamentally better algorithms for solving geometric problems across science and engineering. She is a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University working with Keenan Crane on geometry processing, a subfield of computer graphics concerned with how to represent and work with geometric data digitally. Zoë received her bachelor’s in computer science and math from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Full Biography

Zijian (William) Niu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Computational and Systems Biology

Zijian (William) Niu’s research focuses on the development of novel computational methods for biological image analysis. While working in the Lab for Systems Biology with Professor Arjun Raj, he created a deep-learning algorithm for accurately detecting tiny diffraction-limited spots in fluorescence microscopy images that outperformed existing methods in quantifying spatial transcriptomics data. He has also worked with Professor Sydney Shaffer on investigating the molecular origins of Barrett’s esophagus and its progression toward esophageal adenocarcinoma. He will receive his bachelor’s in biochemistry, biophysics and physics from the University of Pennsylvania. In fall 2024, he will start a doctoral program in computational and systems biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Full Biography

James Roney
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Computational Biology 

James Roney is interested in developing computational models of protein structure, function and evolution and using those models to engineer novel proteins for applications in biotechnology. His past research has focused on interpreting the internal workings of AlphaFold and modeling cancer evolution. He received his bachelor’s degree in computer science and master’s degree in statistics from Harvard University. He is currently working as a machine learning research engineer at D.E. Shaw Research. He will pursue a doctorate in computational biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Full Biography

Anna Sappington
Harvard University-Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Anna Sappington aspires to build methods to predict evolutionary events. In particular, she plans to draw connections among machine learning, biology and chemistry to develop reinforcement learning models inspired by evolutionary biology. She is a student in the Harvard University-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) MD-PhD Program, currently in the first year of her doctoral program at MIT in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Sappington received a master’s in machine learning from University College London, and a master’s in genomic medicine from the University of Cambridge, where she studied as a Marshall Scholar. She received her bachelor’s degree in computer science and molecular biology from MIT. Full Biography

Ivan Specht
Stanford University | Mathematical Biology 

Ivan Specht builds mathematical models for analyzing, predicting and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. In his doctoral work, he aims to create the preeminent epidemiological toolkit for stopping pandemics. Specht has written four first-author papers to date, two of which have been published in Nature Scientific Reports and Cell Patterns, and he has co-authored publications in several other journals, including Cell. During the height of the pandemic, The New York Times featured his research on effective COVID-19 testing strategies, which were implemented by several universities in the United States. Specht is currently a senior at Harvard College, pursuing a joint degree in math and statistics. He will pursue his doctorate in mathematical biology from Stanford University. Full Biography

Jason Yang
Stanford University | Genetics 

Jason Yang is interested in understanding the biological processes that underlie human health and disease. He is a genetics doctoral student at Stanford University. He received his bachelor’s in biology with a minor in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At MIT, and subsequently at Massachusetts General Hospital, he worked on the mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration in repeat expansion diseases, uncovering a novel molecular consequence of repeat protein aggregation. Full Biography

About the Hertz Foundation

Founded in 1957, the John and Fannie Hertz Foundation accelerates solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, from enhancing national security to improving human health. Through the Hertz Fellowship, the Foundation identifies the nation’s most promising young innovators and disruptors in science and technology, empowering them to become the future leaders who keep our country safe and secure. Today, a community of more than 1,300 Hertz Fellows are a powerful, solution-oriented network of our nation’s top scientific minds, working to address complex problems and contributing to the economic vitality of our country. Learn more at HertzFoundation.org.


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