The Pivot fellowship program from Simons Foundation supports researchers who have a strong track record of success and achievement in their current field, as well as a deep interest, curiosity, and drive to make contributions to a new discipline. Each of the seven fellows are accomplished researchers who are applying their current expertise to a new field in mathematics and natural sciences.
Shukla’s research work focuses on understanding biological processes using physics-based models and techniques. His proposal is titled “Pivoting from Computational Chemistry to Experimental Plant Biology.” With the Simons Foundation Pivot fellowship, he will pivot to experimental plant biology from computational chemistry. During this work, he will bring the disciplines of computational chemistry and experimental plant biology under one roof to enable rapid cycles of design and innovation in plant protein engineering. With mentoring from Stephen Long, a professor of plant biology at Illinois, Shukla will develop a framework for integrating ideas from machine learning to guided protein engineering, experimental plant biology, and design validation in living plant tissues. The training phase’s overall goal is to demonstrate that these synergistic approaches can address a problem of high agricultural significance.
“The University of Illinois is among the best institutions for computational chemistry and plant biology research. With the support from this fellowship, we will be able to develop a unique research program at the interface of these traditional areas of excellence on our campus,” said Shukla, who is also an affiliate faculty member in the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, plant biology, and bioengineering.
The Pivot Fellowship program is open to faculty in the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, data science and computer science at academic institutions or equivalent positions elsewhere. The fellowships provide salary support as well as research, travel and professional development funding. In addition, mentors will receive a $50,000 research fund. At the end of the fellowship year, fellows will be invited to apply for a 3-year research award in the new field for up to $1.5 million over the 3-year period.
“Scientists who move into new fields have had an outsize impact,” said Simons Foundation president David Spergel. “This new program aims to enable and accelerate this process and to break down barriers between fields.”
To learn more about Shukla’s research, visit his lab website.