Four researchers earn interdisciplinary Schmidt Science Fellowships

Four MIT-affiliated researchers are among 28 around the world to have been named to a competitive Schmidt Science Fellowship, an award created in 2017 to advance interdisciplinary studies among early-career researchers.

“An initiative of Schmidt Futures, delivered in partnership with the Rhodes Trust, the Schmidt Science Fellows program brings together the brightest minds who have completed a PhD in the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, or computing, and places them in a postdoctoral fellowship in a field different from their existing expertise,” according to a recent announcement of the awards by benefactors Eric and Wendy Schmidt. “Fellows are supported for at least one and up to two years with a $100,000 per year stipend. The funding provides both training for the fellows and the research they undertake.” 

Álvaro Fernández Galiana is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering. As a member of MIT’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Laboratory, he has focused on developing precision instrumentation to improve the sensitivity of interferometers used to detect gravitational waves. Earlier in his doctoral studies, he worked on the vibration isolation platform of the “squeezer instrument,” which reduces quantum noise. This breakthrough contributed to a 40 percent increase in the detection rate of the LIGO observatories. He has since been working on a compact version of this instrument with applications in metrology and quantum information experiments. As a Schmidt Fellow, he will shift gears to focus on solutions for population health monitoring. He plans to combine vibrational spectroscopy and machine learning to create a low-cost platform for multi-pathogen detection. This technology could be used for mass population screening and may improve health outcomes in resource-constrained environments and during future pandemics.

“I feel truly honored to become a member of the Schmidt Science Fellows program and join this vibrant scientific community,” says Fernández Galiana. “It is a unique and exciting opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and apply the knowledge and skills that I have gained at MIT at the interface of physics and engineering to a new discipline.”

In her doctoral work at MIT, Fatima Hussain PhD ’20 studied the impact of phages — viruses that infect bacteria — on the ecology and evolution of marine microbes, with Professor Martin Polz. As a Schmidt fellow, Hussain will be applying her expertise in marine microbiology and phage biology to the vaginal microbiome. Hussain plans to study how the immune system interacts with pathogens and healthy bacteria in the vaginal mucosa and aims to understand the impacts of these interactions on HIV risk. Ultimately, she hopes her work will lay the foundation fo


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