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Schmidt Science Polymaths

The Polymath Program bets on intensely creative, recently-tenured professors with remarkable multidisciplinary track records, promising futures, and research ideas that cross field boundaries and could lead to impactful breakthroughs.



The Schmidt Science Polymath program bets on recently-tenured professors with remarkable track records, promising futures, and a desire to explore interdisciplinary research. The program aims to encourage the best “polymath” scientists to expand their research portfolios by exploring a substantive disciplinary shift soon after achieving tenure.

The Program

The Polymath program will make long-term bets on recently-tenured professors with remarkable track records, promising futures, and a desire to explore interdisciplinary research. Each professor will be awarded $500,000 per year, paid through their institution, for up to five years to help support a research group through talent, such as three to four students or postdocs, and resources. These grants are intended to make possible the exploration of new ideas across disciplines, using emerging technologies to test risky theories that may not otherwise receive funding or support. They are not intended to relieve the researcher of pursuing other grants to continue their mainstream work, nor to be large enough to fully support a modern lab.


Read more about current Schmidt Science Polymaths and their work below.

2022 Grant Recipients

Ahmad 'Mo' Khalil

Dr. Ahmad (Mo) Khalil is the Dorf-Ebner Distinguished Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Founding Associate Director of the Biological Design Center at Boston University. Trained as an engineer, Dr. Khalil seeks to understand the design principles of living systems by creating and analyzing synthetic ones in the laboratory. His team has pioneered synthetic biology approaches to rationally construct and dissect the molecular circuits that control gene regulation in eukaryotes, work that has resulted in fundamental discoveries on transcription regulation and epigenetic memory and led to platforms for creating programmable cellular therapies to address pressing human diseases. In addition, his team has developed powerful automation technologies, such as the eVOLVER, that enable researchers to perform laboratory evolution at unprecedented scale. Dr. Khalil’s team is applying these technologies to recreate the evolutionary histories of biological systems in the laboratory and to harness the power of evolution to generate biomolecules with new and improved functions for a variety of applications. The team is also working to distribute and democratize access to the eVOLVER platform and other technologies they develop to support further innovation worldwide. Visit the Khalil Lab website for more information on their work.

Future Work Summary: Dr. Khalil is interested in pursuing several new areas of interdisciplinary and collaborative research, including the invention and application of new technologies that allow precise cultivation and study of human-associated microbiota. Another area is the development of synthetic biology platforms for engineering multicellular systems, which could initiate new ways to study plants and potentially generate crops that are resilient to population growth and climate change.

Andrew Saxe

Dr. Andrew Saxe is an Associate Professor/Joint Group Leader at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and Sainsbury Wellcome Centre at University College London. His research seeks to unravel the computational principles governing learning in artificial and biological systems. To do so, his work draws on a range of applied mathematics in order to understand modern ‘deep’ artificial neural networks and develop theories for experimental domains in neuroscience and psychology. Dr. Saxe’s interests span domains from visual perceptual learning in rodents, to the neurobiology of declarative memory and the development of semantic cognition in humans. Visit the Saxe Lab website for more information on their work.

Future Work Summary: Dr. Saxe’s lab, which has so far been theoretical in focus, will use the Polymath Award to begin an experimental component investigating the links between modern deep learning systems and learning in the brain and mind.

Ido Kaminer

Dr. Ido Kaminer is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He established the AdQuanta lab, which brings together students from interdisciplinary backgrounds to pursue breakthrough research in basic science. The AdQuanta lab develops novel theoretical and experimental methods, combining fundamental and applied research, and has made contributions in diverse areas including quantum technologies, electron microscopy, nano-photonics, and AI-driven mathematics. A primary research area is the development of compact X-ray sources and ultrafast detectors for applications in medical imaging, leading to breakthrough discoveries. Previously, Dr. Kaminer has discovered new classes of accelerating light beams and accelerating quantum particle-waves, and established the foundations of macroscopic quantum electrodynamics for photonic quasiparticles in order to find new ways to control light-matter interactions. As a faculty member at the Technion, Dr. Kaminer became a leader in the field of electron-light interactions, creating a paradigm shift in understanding the nature of radiation emission from free electrons, opening a new research direction in photonic quantum computing. Dr. Kaminer’s scientific contributions helped create the new area of free-electron quantum optics. He also conceived the Ramanujan Machine project, developing the first algorithms that generate conjectures for mathematical constants. Visit the Kaminer Lab website for more information on their work.

Future Work Summary: Dr. Kaminer will attempt to automate the process of human creativity by creating computer algorithms that mimic experiments in physics. Taking inspiration from his experience as an experimental physicist, a field in which unexpected experimental results constantly drive discoveries and stimulate human creativity, he aims to develop AI-based research tools to automate the search for new directions in fundamental physics and mathematics.

Lulu Qian

Dr. Lulu Qian is a Professor of Bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology where she advances the theory and practice of engineering molecular systems with intelligent behaviors. Dr. Qian takes inspiration from fundamental principles in biology and conceptual frameworks in computer science to develop systematic approaches for the construction of artificial molecular machines. She invented DNA-based neural networks that classify complex and noisy molecular information, which provided a proof of concept that rudimentary brain-like behavior can exist in test tube chemistry. Her work on DNA self-assembly pioneered simple ways to create nanostructures with programmable patterns and dimensions comparable to the smallest living cells. Dr. Qian’s creation of swarm molecular robots demonstrated how nanomechanical tasks can be carried out autonomously by simple molecules following energy-efficient algorithms. Visit the Qian Lab website for more information on their work.

Future Work Summary: Dr. Qian’s future research concerns how artificial molecular machines can be programmed to learn from their environment and become “smarter” over their lifetimes, how they can be powered by universal energy sources and stay “alive” for sustained operation, and how they can be used to empower macroscale materials with molecular-scale robotic behaviors that incorporate memory, pattern recognition, reconfiguration, and learning.

Mary Caswell Stoddard

Dr. Mary Caswell Stoddard (Cassie) is an Associate Professor in the Princeton Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Stoddard uses a multidisciplinary approach to investigate avian coloration and color vision and the evolution and engineering of avian eggs. By combining lab experiments with fieldwork and research in the collections of natural history museums, Dr. Stoddard’s lab is working to understand how birds produce and perceive color and how they evolved tough-but-breakable eggshells. Dr. Stoddard’s research team is currently investigating hummingbird sensory ecology at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. At this high-altitude site, the effects of climate change threaten the delicate relationship between wildflowers and hummingbird pollinators.Dr. Stoddard collaborates with bioengineers, physicists, computer scientists and mathematicians as she works toward building an integrative picture of bird behavior and evolution in a world of rapid environmental change. Visit the Stoddard Lab website for more information on their work.         

Future Work Summary: Studying birds from their excellent color vision and striking plumage to their impressive eggshells requires a wholly multidisciplinary approach. The Stoddard Lab will embrace tools from photonics, genomics, machine learning and biomechanics to understand avian evolution in new ways, with an eye toward protecting birds in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Randall Goldsmith

Dr. Randall Goldsmith is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where he has assembled a team of physical, analytical, materials, organic, and inorganic chemists as well as physicists, electrical engineers, biophysicists, and neuroscientists. Professor Goldsmith studies ways of using light to observe, alter, or even control the behavior of molecules, blending chemical spectroscopy and microscopy with photonics, microfluidics, nanofabrication, and chemical synthesis, and working toward applications spanning materials science, quantum optics, catalysis, and biology.  Recent research highlights include the development of microresonator spectrometers for single-molecule spectroscopy for applications such as performing measurements on individual conducting polymer molecules or reacting nanoparticles, using plasmonic nanostructures to explore cooperativity in an ion channel regulatory domain and enable extremely high-concentration single-molecule spectroscopy experiments, and making observations on the initiation dynamics of single working molecular catalysts and the conformational dynamics of disordered proteins. Visit the Goldsmith Lab website for more information on their work.         

Future Work Summary: Dr. Goldsmith will pursue the development of new fabrication strategies to create novel devices capable of dramatically altering the properties of light.

Samir Bhatt

Dr. Samir Bhatt is a Professor at the University of Copenhagen and Imperial College London, where his research team works at the interface of mathematics, biology and computer science. While undertaking a MPhil at the University of Cambridge and a DPhil at the University of Oxford, he developed methods to estimate the rate of molecular adaptation in viruses, and conducted the first study investigating the origins of the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic. Subsequent research explored spatial epidemiology, including the first study to quantify the global distribution and burden of Dengue disease and a study measuring the effect of interventions (such as bednets) on malaria prevalence and incidence across Sub-Saharan Africa. At Imperial College London, Dr. Bhatt expanded his research to include studying housing quality in sub-Saharan Africa, developing network infection models for malaria, mapping travel accessibility, large scale geostatistical methods, and outbreak methodology. Recently, Dr. Bhatt has been involved in research and advising on the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit Professor Bhatt’s website for more information on his work.

Future Work Summary: Dr. Bhatt plans to diversify his research into several new directions, including the economic effects of infectious disease outbreaks, developing approaches to understand variation in the rate of biological aging, studying the dynamics of stochastic branching processes and their properties, optimisation theory for phylogenetics and topological explanations for evolutionary processes.

Shelley Claridge

Dr. Shelley Claridge is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University. She uses her interdisciplinary background in nanostructured materials and molecular-scale imaging to create materials with inexpensive structural elements that exceed spatial resolution achieved in multi-billion dollar fabrication facilities. Much previous work in surface science has demonstrated atomic or molecular scale control over ‘perfect’ crystalline surfaces, typically over very small areas and under highly controlled conditions. Dr. Claridge’s group has recently developed unconventional strategies to extend precise chemical control to imperfect surfaces operating under real-world conditions, opening the door to a broad range of applications from human health to wearable electronics. Her perspectives on materials chemistry are also shaped by previous experience as a professional software engineer with training in pure mathematics. Visit the Claridge Research Group’s website for more information on their work.

Future Work Summary: Dr. Claridge’s future research brings the high-resolution tools of classical surface science to bear on the design of hierarchical function in complex soft matter including human tissue.

Suchitra Sebastian

Dr. Suchitra Sebastian is currently a Professor in Physics and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Fellow at the University of Cambridge. Her research seeks to discover unconventional quantum phases of matter in complex materials. To this end, Dr. Sebastian’s group’s experiments involve tuning the co-operative behavior of electrons within these materials by subjecting them to extreme conditions including low temperature, high applied pressure, and intense magnetic field. Under these conditions, interactions between a trillion trillion electrons, as many as the stars in the observable universe, create surprising and unpredictable collective quantum phases akin to new materials ‘universes’. Emergent quantum phenomena studied by Dr. Sebastian’s research group include high-temperature superconductivity and a new unconventional insulating state of matter they recently discovered. In addition to her leadership in research, Dr. Sebastian is founding director of the Cavendish Arts Science programme, and co-founder of Bread Theatre and Film Company, Cambridge. Visit Dr. Sebastian’s Research Group website for more information on their work.

Future Work Summary: Dr. Sebastian plans to integrate robotics with intelligent scanning of quantum phase space in novel materials to experimentally access previously unexplored regions, and thus find exotic forms of quantum matter.

Sudip Shekhar

Dr. Sudip Shekhar is an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of British Columbia. His research has explored a number of topics in electrical engineering, including microelectronics, integrated circuits and systems for high-speed interfaces, silicon photonics, radio-frequency transceivers, accelerators and sensor interfaces, leading to innovation in integrated communications systems and circuits (data-centers, processors, and radios) with applications to optoelectronics, high-speed interconnects, and wireless systems. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Dr. Shekhar conducted research on high-speed input/output architectures at the Circuits Research Laboratory of the Intel Corporation. At UBC, he continued the research and further collaborated with Elenion (now Nokia). Those work led to transceivers that transformed connectivity within and between data-centers. Dr. Shekhar’s current research interests include circuits for electrical and optical interfaces, frequency synthesizers, and wireless transceivers. Visit the Shekhar Lab website for more information on their work. 

Future Work Summary: Dr. Shekhar plans to pivot from developing communications circuits to building biosensors for inexpensive yet robust point-of-care biomedical testing – a potentially game-changing technology that could expand testing capacity for isolated communities, emergency services, drive-through testing and drug stores, and eventually for at-home use.

2021 Grant Recipients

Jeff Gore

Dr. Jeff Gore is an Associate Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he uses his background in physics to gain critical insights into important biological questions. Dr. Gore uses quantitative thinking and a variety of tools from areas such as game theory, statistical physics, and behavioral ecology to solve problems in different fields. His research has moved from physics-based analysis of behavior of single biological molecules to research that elucidates behaviors in biological populations using a physicist’s taste for precise experiments and a biologist’s interest in real-world complexity. Dr. Gore’s lab is composed of an interdisciplinary group of scientists interested in collaboration that effectively combines experiments, theory, and modeling. Visit the Gore Lab website for more information on their work.

Jeff Gore headshot

Oded Rechavi

Dr. Oded Rechavi is a Professor of Neurobiology in the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University where he seeks to challenge fundamental long-held scientific dogmas. Prof. Rechavi’s primary research has focused on transgenerational inheritance and evolution where he introduced a paradigm shift in the field of inheritance not by identifying small RNAs that are generated in response to stress and are transmitted to subsequent generations. Outside of transgenerational biology, Dr. Rechavi has pioneered several new areas of interdisciplinary research. His work on the Dead Sea Scrolls used genome sequencing to help identify sources and to piece together tiny fragments of the scrolls by analyzing ancient DNA obtained from the animal skin parchment they were written on. His work on neuroeconomics uncovered neuronal mechanisms that underlie irrational decision making. Visit the Rechavi Lab website for more information on their work.

Oded Rechavi headshot
doing research in lab doing research in lab

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