President’s Frontier Award recipients are selected via an annual university-wide competition for demonstrating significant scholarly achievement and showing exceptional promise for important future work. The $250,000 award will recognize researchers each year for ten years with funding for their research expenses. The inaugural award was made in 2015.
Alexis Battle is an internationally recognized leader in the field of biomedical engineering whose work has vital implications in the fields of human genetics, computational genomics, and precision medicine. Her research focuses on how genetic variation between individuals leads to changes in gene expression, and how these changes then lead to disease risk and progression. Using machine learning and probabilistic modeling, Battle and her lab create computational models capable of interpreting vast sets of genomics and health data to identify variations in gene expression and follow trends in disease progression caused by these changes in DNA. She has pioneered the use of time-series data to understand the impact of genetic variation at critical time points relevant to disease development. Battle was recently a senior leader on the NIH-funded GTEx Consortium Project, a massive multi-institution effort that collected and analyzed thousands of human tissue samples to better understand gene expression.
“There is increasing need for creative computational methods in genomics,” wrote Michael Miller, director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, in a letter nominating Battle for the President’s Frontier Award. “…Seeing the full impact of genomic data on biological and medical research therefore relies on the type of creative and careful methods development Alexis does.”
Sarah Hörst, an internationally recognized planetary scientist, studies the composition and characteristics of aerosols in the atmospheres of early Earth and other planets. Using laboratory experiments, modeling, and remote sensing and in situ measurements of atmospheric chemistry, Hörst and her lab work to understand how small molecules transition to become aerosols and the resulting physical and chemical properties of those particles. Essential to her work is her groundbreaking approach to laboratory science. Using a custom-built Planetary Haze Research lab—a one-of-its-kind experimental lab—Hörst and her group simulate the chemical reactions that contribute to the formation of aerosols in planetary atmospheres. Hörst’s work is directly relevant to important space missions, including two upcoming NASA missions: Dragonfly, which will investigate prebiotic organic chemistry and habitability on Saturn's largest moon, Titan; and DAVINCI, which will probe the chemical composition of the atmosphere of Venus.
“Particularly impressive is her ingenuity and creativity in developing and leading a new scientific field essentially from scratch: extrasolar planet atmosphere laboratory studies,” wrote Sabine Stanley, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, in a letter nominating Hörst for the award. “Her work has already had major impact on the global effort to observe and characterize exoplanet atmospheres.”