2 UC Berkeley doctoral candidates receive Schmidt Science Fellowship

Photo of UC Berkeley Fellows
The Schmidt Science Fellowship has provided Rebecca Pinals (left) and Trevor GrandPre (right) each with personal stipends to further their respective research aims.

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Two UC Berkeley doctoral candidates, one with a passion to cure Alzheimer’s disease and another with a goal to understand cell growth, received the opportunity to further their research through the Schmidt Science Fellowship’s $100,000 stipend.

According to Schmidt Science Fellows Director of Strategic Operations and Fellowship Affairs Matt Goode, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy Schmidt launched the program in 2017. In partnership with the Rhodes Trust, the initiative of Schmidt Futures is to develop leaders in science.

“The Schmidt Science Fellows program believes in a world where interdisciplinary science flourishes without limit, accelerating discoveries to benefit the world, and driving innovation that improves quality of life for all,” Goode said in an email.

After candidates for the fellowship are nominated by their doctoral-awarding institutions, a panel of experts conducts an evaluative academic review and interview, Goode added. The panel looks for candidates with a strong academic record along with a curious, innovative and collaborative attitude that aims to effect positive change through science leadership.

Among 28 fellows, Trevor GrandPre and Rebecca Pinals were selected according to these criteria. GrandPre plans to use machine learning to produce a model that investigates the relationship between cell metabolic activity and growth rate.

“It remains a mystery how cells maintain growth-rate homeostasis that is associated with balanced growth,” GrandPre said in an email. “Developing deep understanding on this subject will provide insight into how cells counteract dynamical changes in metabolism to maintain homeostasis in their growth rate. This intuition will be impactful in particular to designing antibiotics that target the production of the bacterial cell wall, such as penicillin.”

Pinals, who was nominated for the fellowship by her doctorate adviser, will develop nanosensors and models of human brain tissue to investigate Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease that affects more than 6 million Americans. 

While there is no cure, the disease is usually diagnosed and treated after significant brain damage occurs. Pinals, however, plans to take a different approach.

“Through my research, I aim to understand the spatial, temporal, and chemical dynamics in the brain before the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms,” Pinals said in an email. “This insight will be critical for developing effective treatment strategies, and ultimately, a cure for this devastating disease.”

Goode noted that this year, Schmidt Science Fellows increased flexibility with the eligibility window due to the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to holding final interviews virtually.

Schmidt Science Fellows and the Rhodes Trust will further develop the community of fellows and alumni through an annual fellowship conference, international recruitment and interdisciplinary science initiatives.

“The fellowship gives the world’s best aspiring scientific minds a broader perspective, the ability to engage in an interdisciplinary way, and the opportunity to make a lasting impact on society,” Goode said in the email.

Contact Andie Liu and Veronica Roseborough at [email protected].