Remo Rohs Selected as Sloan Research Fellow

The assistant professor of computational biology in USC Dornsife said the $50,000 award will help him to advance his studies integrating genomics and structural biology.
ByRobert Perkins

Remo Rohs of USC Dornsife has been selected as a research fellow by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, it was announced today.

Fei Sha of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering was also chosen.

Rohs and Sha are among 126 researchers from the United States and Canada who will receive the prestigious two-year, $50,000 fellowship award. The fellowship is designed to single out promising young scientists — and indeed, 39 former Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win Nobel Prizes later in their careers.

“In being selected as Sloan Research Fellows, professors Sha and Rohs have positioned themselves as highly influential contributors within their fields for years to come,” said Elizabeth Garrett, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “At USC we value our promising junior faculty researchers who work in areas that are making a major impact on society, such as computer science and computational biology. They combine their passion for creating new knowledge with an inspiring vision of the possibilities that will lead to a brighter future.”

The award committees review more than 700 nominations for the Sloan fellowship each year. Fellows must demonstrate significant research accomplishments, creativity and the potential to become leaders in the scientific community through their contributions to their field, according to the foundation’s website.

Rohs, assistant professor of computational biology in the molecular and computational biology program, expressed gratitude to his colleagues for their genuine mentorship.

“I feel tremendously honored by this award, but I want to emphasize that this is an accomplishment of my entire lab and that USC has provided the ideal environment for the unfolding of my research program,” said Rohs, who holds appointments in biological sciences, chemistry and physics at USC Dornsife and in computer science at USC Viterbi.

Rohs said the award will help him to advance his studies that integrate two fields of research: genomics and structural biology. He hopes that his analysis of high-throughput sequencing and DNA methylation data of whole genomes will reveal yet unknown molecular mechanisms underlying gene regulation.

Sha said he will take this opportunity to explore more radical ideas, in particular, participatory machine learning — a new paradigm for statistical computing and inference with data.

Leveraging clouds for scalable computing and storage, he hopes to empower millions of individual users to compute with data collaboratively and effectively, achieving a new phase of the wealth of networks beyond Wikipedia and open-source development.

Sha said that winning the award with Rohs is serendipitous: Coincidentally, the researchers have also recently started an interdisciplinary collaboration focusing on the application of novel statistical machine-learning techniques toward a better understanding of how proteins and DNA interact.

“It is a tremendous honor,” said Sha, assistant professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “Looking back on the wonderful four-and-a-half years since I joined USC, this award attests to not only the effort by my group but also the university’s nurturing environment for young scientists.”

Catalyzed by the support from the Sloan Foundation, both said they are excited at the potential of their collaboration bringing forward new discoveries.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation was founded in 1934 by Alfred P. Sloan Jr., then-president and CEO of General Motors, with the goal of making grants to support research and education related to science, technology and economic performance; and to improve the quality of American life, according to the foundation’s website.

The Sloan fellowship is the oldest of the grant programs it administers — having been started in 1955 — but the scientists it reaches are among the youngest that the foundation helps.

“The Sloan Research Fellows are the best of the best among young scientists,” said Paul Joskow, president of the Sloan Foundation. “If you want to know where the next big scientific breakthrough will come from, look to these extraordinary men and women. The foundation is proud to support them during this pivotal stage of their careers.”