Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists Announce 2020 Laureates

  • America’s largest unrestricted scientific prize goes to promising young researchers

NEW YORK--()--The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences announced today a molecular biophysicist, an organic chemist and an astrophysicist as the Laureates of the 2020 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. Each receives $250,000, the largest unrestricted scientific prize to America’s most-promising, young faculty-level scientific researchers.

The Laureates are:

  • Clifford Brangwynne, chemical and biological engineering professor, Princeton University, for a discovery that upends previous understandings of the internal organization of cells.
  • William R. Dichtel, chemistry professor, Northwestern University, for pioneering methods to create novel, porous materials from simple, carbon-based building blocks.
  • Brian Metzger, physics professor, Columbia University, for settling long-standing questions about the origin of gold and other heavy elements.

“Science demands creativity, knowledge and persistence to solve the world’s most challenging problems,” said Len Blavatnik, founder and chairman of Access Industries, head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation and member of the President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences. “Through dedication to their research, these outstanding young scientists have harnessed their diverse interdisciplinary backgrounds to make discoveries that will change our society for the better.”

Nicholas B. Dirks, the New York Academy of Sciences’ new president and CEO said, “This marks the first time the Blavatnik National Awards has Laureates from Princeton University, Columbia University or Northwestern University, and we congratulate these institutions for their strong support of cutting-edge research in the sciences. We look forward to three winning scientists participating as Laureates in the Academy, sharing their future innovations and discoveries with our members and the world at large.”

The 2020 Blavatnik National Awards competition received 305 nominees from 161 research institutions. Nominees, eligible if age 42 younger, were evaluated by three independent juries – one for each of the awards’ categories of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering and Chemistry. The judging panels, composed distinguished scientists, selected these Laureates from a group of 31 finalists:

Laureate in life sciences: Clifford Brangwynne, PhD, professor, chemical and biological engineering, Princeton University. Brangwynne has transformed the field of cell biology through a discovery that upends the understanding of the internal organization of cells. He discovered that inside cells, biomolecules can merge to form liquid-like droplets that allow for the localization and compartmentalization of molecular interactions. The ability of these droplets to smoothly fuse and separate is critical for cell division and the development of embryos. Errors in this physical property may result in the formation of solid structures, such as the tangles and fibers found in Alzheimer’s disease, which can cause cell damage and death.

Laureate in chemistry: William R. Dichtel, PhD, professor of chemistry, Northwestern University. Dichtel has pioneered methods to create novel, porous materials from simple, carbon-based building blocks. These materials can be easily designed and tailored to address specific needs and possess extremely high surface areas because they contain tiny holes—pores that can store, detect and separate small molecules and ions. For example, he invented porous materials derived from corn that are now being used commercially to remove toxic substances such as industrial pollutants and pharmaceuticals from drinking water. He has also developed materials that show promise for new energy storage systems.

Laureate in physical sciences & engineering: Brian Metzger, PhD, professor of physics, Columbia University. Metzger has settled a long-standing question about the origin of gold and other heavy elements in the universe. He predicted that gold, along with all the stable elements on the lower part of the periodic table, was created in a collision of two merging neutron stars called a “kilonova.” In 2017, the LIGO gravitational wave observatory recorded the first observed kilonova explosion, and measurements taken after this discovery confirmed Metzger’s predictions. Indeed, the heaviest elements present in the universe, like gold, were created by such cataclysmic events. Metzger’s work has ushered in a new era in astronomy that will revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos.

Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists
The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, established by the Blavatnik Family Foundation in the US in 2007 and administered by the New York Academy of Sciences, has conferred prizes totaling over $10.2 million to 321 outstanding young scientists and engineers from more than 46 countries. See

Blavatnik Family Foundation
The Blavatnik Family Foundation supports educational, scientific, cultural and charitable institutions in the US, UK, Israel, Russia and throughout the world. It is headed by Len Blavatnik, a global industrialist and philanthropist and the founder and chairman of Access Industries, a privately held industrial group based in the US with global strategic interests. See or

The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York of Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science for the benefit of society. With more than 20,000 members in 100 countries, it advances scientific and technical knowledge, addresses global challenges with science-based solutions and sponsors a wide variety of educational initiatives. See


Kamala Murthy,, 212-298-3740



Kamala Murthy,, 212-298-3740