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Dartmouth Engineering PhD Student Named Schmidt Science Fellow

Apr 23, 2020   |   by Julie Bonette

Jennifer Lai, a Dartmouth engineering PhD candidate, has been selected as a 2020 Schmidt Science Fellow along with just 21 other early-career scientists from across the world. Lai, a protein engineer who designs vaccines, plans to use the fellowship to pivot her research toward the high-throughput analysis of antibody repertoire data.

Jennifer Lai

Jennifer Lai (Photo by Seth Brooks)

“A problem with the pathogens that we’re working on at Dartmouth is that not all antibody responses are equally protective,” said Lai. “My proposed research shift will involve thinking about antibody responses holistically using really high-throughput methods of interrogating the antibody response. I aim to gain expertise in technological methods as well as the statistical and computational analytical tools necessary to be able to draw conclusions from all of the data.”

Each of the new Fellows aims to harness interdisciplinary approaches to tackle long-term societal challenges, including infectious disease, climate change, and biodiversity loss, according to Schmidt Science Fellows, a program of Schmidt Futures in partnership with the Rhodes Trust.

“I really enjoy working in between disciplines, interacting with biologists, engineers, and computer scientists, so I would really like interdisciplinarity to play a large role in my future work,” said Lai, a 2011 Rhodes Scholar recipient who plans on a career in academia. “The body interacts with the world through the immune system, so I can see antibody research being applicable to many disease settings.”

The Fellows were selected following a rigorous, multi-stage application and interview process. Each Fellow will receive a $100,000 stipend and be paired with an internationally accomplished and experienced senior scientist as a mentor, as well as attend global meetings at international science and innovation clusters.

“The current crisis has shown us the importance of scientists working across disciplines and engaging with society and policymakers,” said Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures, in a press release announcing the 2020 cohort. “This new group of Schmidt Science Fellows demonstrates our commitment at Schmidt Futures to investing in talented people who can make the world a better place in the long run and even during some of the most challenging times in recent memory.”

Lai plans to defend her thesis later this term and then apply the fellowship to a postdoctoral appointment at the Harvard School of Public Health. She has also recently celebrated her marriage to Chris Remmel, a data scientist at Thayer; the two tied the knot earlier this month, on the day between when she interviewed for the fellowship and when she was notified that she had been selected. Margie Ackerman, professor of engineering and Lai’s PhD advisor, officiated the ceremony, which took place over Zoom. Ackerman has mentored Lai since 2007, when they worked together as students at MIT.

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