Five things to know about Elaine Hsiao: Winner of the 2022 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists for Life Sciences

They are among America’s most promising young scientists and engineers, ushering in the next era of ambitious discoveries.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences recently announced a neurobiologist, a synthetic chemist and a mechanical engineer as the laureates of the 2022 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. Each was selected by independent juries across life sciences, chemistry, physical sciences and engineering after a rigorous review process.

Elaine Y. Hsiao, Ph.D., the University of California, Los Angeles, the life sciences laureate, and the other winners were recognized for their significant contribution to science and the promotion of human health through their groundbreaking research.

“Each day, these brilliant young scientists seek solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Len Blavatnik, founder and chairman of Access Industries, and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation. “We congratulate them on their accomplishments and look forward to their continued, future discoveries and success.”

Five things to know about Dr. Hsiao:

  1. She is the De Logi Chair of Biological Sciences and neuroscientist at UCLA, honored for her work that expands the understanding of how the gut microbiome interacts with the nervous system. Her research will help improve maternal-fetal health and predict risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.
  2. As a child, she wanted to be an animator, dancer or musician. Once in college, however, she realized she could still leverage her creative abilities through science and work toward benefitting those in need. “My advice for young scientists is really just to follow where the science takes them, to not be concerned about all of these external pressures. Just follow your passions and your interests, even in questions that might be unusual,” she told NYAS.
  3. Her passion for molecular biology and interest in the microbiome began when she was in high school. In an interview with Renew Life, she said that in high school she learned about molecular biology and techniques to edit genes in bacteria. “It was absolutely wild that scientists could use ‘cut-and-paste’ methods to alter the genes in organisms,” she said. “This began my career love affair with the microbiome.”
  4. Her husband, Leon, helped her create a fun, interactive websitein which an animated version of Dr. Hsiao and her white and orange cat is used to help her students and others visualize the way microbes interact with the brain. “What motivates me is knowing that there are so many unanswered questions out there, mysteries of nature, that I have the privilege of exploring,” she told CZI.
  5. One item she has kept in her laboratory may come as an amusing surprise: a “poop emoji pillow with heart eyes.” Because her lab studies gut microbes, she said, “poop is a common mealtime and anytime topic.”

The other laureates are Hosea M. Nelson, Ph.D., a synthetic chemist from the California Institute of Technology, and Conor Walsh, Ph.D., a biomedical and mechanical engineer from Harvard University.

Each Blavatnik laureate receives $250,000, the largest unrestricted scientific award in the U.S. for young, faculty-ranked scientists and engineers.