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New York's Top Scientists Finalists for Prestigious Awards for Groundbreaking Research

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — A dozen New York area scientists — half of them from New York City — specializing in subjects ranging from nanotechnology to behavioral science were named finalists Thursday in a prestigious competition.

The five fellows and seven faculty were chosen from more than 150 nominations for the New York Academy of Sciences Blavatnik Awards, the academy announced. Faculty finalists will receive up to $25,000, and postdoctoral finalists up to $15,000.

A third of the awards went to NYU professors or postdoctoral fellows, and two awards went to scientists from Columbia University.

“For the fourth year, The New York Academy of Sciences is proud to recognize the most accomplished young scientists who are working to advance science and technology in the world’s greatest cluster of universities and academic medical centers,” said Academy President Ellis Rubinstein.

One NYU finalist, Daniela Schiller, 37, did research on how to erase fear as an emotional response to a memory. The Manhattan-based fellow did experiments on NYU undergraduate students by measuring how they respond to electric shock, the scientist said.

Her work has been compared to the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Schiller says, but there are fundamental differences — namely that she is trying to rewire the brain, not erase it.

“I create a new memory, a face memory, that competes with the fear,” Schiller said. “From the research we could change stronger memories which are disabling, disturbing in life. Like trauma.”

Another finalist, Elza Erkip, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU, has been busy trying to change the face of  wireless communications by developing new methods to improve service.

At 41, Erkip is one of the oldest competitors for the funds — the award is not given to anyone born before 1968. Officials of the Blavatnik Awards say that the age limit differentiates them from the Nobel Peace Prize, which tends to honor scientists much later in their careers.

“Encouraging and supporting young scientists is critical if we are to successfully address society’s challenges,” said Len Blavatnik, chairman of Access Industries. “These brilliant young scientists represent our future and our hope for a better world for all."

Six winners will be announced and honored from the twelve finalists at the Academy’s 7th annual Science and the City Gala, to be held on November 15.   

The finalists include the professors Elza Ekrip (NYU), David Evans (Yale University), Zoltan Haiman (Columbia University), Michal Lipson (Cornell University), Evgeny Nudler (NYU), Shonghai Shi (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute), Neal Weiner (NYU), Yara Lipmon (Princeton University), Haitoa Liu (Columbia University), Nicolas Reyes (Weill Cornell Medical Center), Daniela Schiller (NYU) and Agnel Sfeir (The Rockefeller University).