Six professors win Sloan Foundation research fellowships

Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Feb. 15, 2023

The Sloan Foundation has announced that six Princeton professors — Shane Campbell-Staton, Felix Heide, John Jimah, Anirudha Majumdar, Mikkel Plagborg-Møller and Sanfeng Wu — have been selected as 2023 Sloan Research Fellows.

“Sloan Research Fellows are shining examples of innovative and impactful research,” said Adam Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We are thrilled to support their groundbreaking work and we look forward to following their continued success.”

The fellowship recognizes creative early-career researchers in seven scientific and technical fields: chemistry, computer science, Earth system science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and physics. More than 1000 researchers are nominated each year for 126 fellowship slots.

Including this year’s recipients, 243 Princeton faculty members have received Sloan fellowships since they were first awarded in 1955. Fellows are nominated by their institutions, and winners are selected by an independent panel based on research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in their field.

Shane Campbell-Staton, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who studies contemporary evolution and adaptation, received a Sloan fellowship in Earth system science. Campbell-Staton’s research focuses on evolution in the Anthropocene, the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. His research combines environmental niche modeling, field biology, experimental physiology and genomic techniques to understand the lasting biological and evolutionary impacts of human activity

Campbell-Staton came to Princeton in 2021 from the faculty of the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), where he was an assistant professor of biology and genetics. He completed a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and his B.S. from the University of Rochester. In addition to his NSF fellowship, his many honors include a 2022 Pew Biomedical fellowship; a 2019 Life Sciences Excellence Award in Educational Innovation and a 2017 Life Sciences Division Excellence in Research Award, both from UCLA; the 2015 University of Illinois Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Postdoctoral Fellowship; a 2013 NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant and a 2012 Putnam Expedition Grant. His public outreach includes “The Biology of Superheroes” podcast, which has more than 300,000 downloads, and a six-part PBS miniseries, “Human Footprint with Shane Campbell-Staton,” launching July 5.

Felix Heide, an assistant professor of computer science, was selected as a Sloan fellow in computer science. He works on optics and computer vision, using nanofabrication techniques to create a new kind of camera that can analyze and perform computation on a scene before an image is captured. Today’s cameras work in the same way they did in the 19th century, with optical lenses recording images and any analysis performed after an image is captured. Heide’s goal is to build a new kind of thin, power-free optical computer inside camera lenses.

Heide joined the Princeton faculty in 2020 and leads the Computational Imaging Lab. He completed postdoctoral research at Stanford University, doctoral work at the University of British Columbia and an M.Sc. from the University of Siegen in Germany. He is the recipient of a 2022 Packard Fellowship, the AutoSens 2020 Young Engineer of the Year Award, Sensors Expo 2018 Rising Star award, ACM SIGGRAPH 2017 Doctoral Dissertation Award and the Alain Fournier 2016 Award for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Computer Graphics. He is also the co-founder and chief technology officer of Algolux.

John Jimah, an assistant professor of molecular biology, was selected for a Sloan fellowship in neuroscience. Jimah is a structural biologist who focuses on membrane remodeling in human cells and in parasites such as malaria. He uses cryo-electron microscopy and cryo-correlative light electron microscopy to examine the tiny walls between cells and cell organelles and determine how nutrients and pathogens are passed across them.

Jimah came to Princeton in January 2022 after completing a Nancy Nossal fellowship at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health. He grew up in Ghana and came to the U.S. for college. He received his Ph.D. in biology and biomedical sciences from Washington University in St. Louis and his B.A. in molecular biology from Colgate University. He was a member of the inaugural class of MOSAIC scholars — the Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers program of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Anirudha Majumdar, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who works on building autonomous robotic systems, received a Sloan fellowship in computer science. Currently, most robots are deployed in tightly controlled environments, like factories. Majumdar and his lab are working to build drones and other robots that can operate safely in a more complex environment, enabling them to see obstacles and adapt to diverse and changing conditions.

Majumdar joined the Princeton faculty in 2017 and leads the Intelligent Robot Motion Lab. He received a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and did postdoctoral research in Stanford University’s Autonomous Systems Lab. He has won early career awards from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, and his work has been recognized by Google, Amazon and the Toyota Research Institute. At Princeton Engineering, he has received the Alfred Rheinstein Faculty Award and an award for teaching excellence.

Mikkel Plagborg-Møller, an econometrician and assistant professor of economics in Princeton’s Department of Economics, was selected as a Sloan fellow in economics. He refines the statistical methods economists and other social scientists use to conduct their analyses. Much of his work focuses on time-series econometrics and helping researchers better evaluate the causal effects of different policy changes over time.

Originally from Denmark, Plagborg-Møller came to the United States as an exchange student at New York University, where he first developed an interest in economic research. After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Copenhagen, Plagborg-Møller earned a Ph.D. in economics at Harvard University. After a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, he joined the Princeton faculty in 2017. He was also a visiting scholar at NYU in 2019-2020. His honors include a 2021 Excellence in Reviewing Award from “American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics,” the 2020–2023 William G. Bowen Presidential University Preceptorship, and the 2018 Excellence in Refereeing Award from “American Economic Review.” He was a five-time recipient of Harvard’s Certificate of Distinction in Teaching.

Sanfeng Wu, an assistant professor of physics who specializes in experimental condensed matter physics and quantum materials, received a Sloan fellowship for physics. Wu and his team are investigating the properties of quantum materials that could unlock new capabilities in computing, communications and many other areas. His research focuses on developing novel quantum structures and devices from crystalline atomic monolayers and studying their emergent electronic phenomena driven by topology and correlations. He and his team employ both quantum electronic and optical techniques to manipulate and measure interesting quantum states at various conditions.

Wu came to Princeton in 2019 after completing a Pappalardo Fellowship at MIT. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2016 and his B.S. in 2010 from the University of Science and Technology in China. Among other honors, Wu has received a 2021 award from the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Tech Fund and prestigious early career awards from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation. He is also associated faculty in the Princeton Materials Institute.

Fellows from the 2023 cohort come from 54 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. “Each in its own way, the nominating institutions are also helping to identify and support these flourishing young researchers,” said Daniel Goroff, director of the Sloan Research Fellowship Program. “We’re honored to join them in recognizing tomorrow’s scientific leaders.” Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship that can be used flexibly.