University of Michigan evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky is among 18 young scientists and engineers from universities across the country named today as 2014 recipients of the Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Each fellow will receive an unrestricted research grant of $875,000 over five years.
Rabosky, who describes himself as a biodiversity scientist, is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a curator of herpetology at the U-M Museum of Zoology. He studies the evolutionary processes of species formation and extinction to understand why biological diversity varies so dramatically over space and time.
"I am deeply honored to have been selected for a Packard Fellowship," Rabosky said. "It's an incredible opportunity because it gives us the freedom to explore some exciting yet risky ideas—the sorts of things that might be difficult to fund by traditional routes."
Rabosky admits to being a bit obsessed with biological diversity, and his work largely focuses on trying to explain the sheer number and variety of life forms on Earth. He combines mathematical and computer modeling of evolutionary processes that generate biodiversity with field studies of ecological communities and evolutionary genetics.
"I plan to use this award to tackle new projects that address several core questions about biodiversity: Why is there so much of it? Why does it vary so much between different kinds of organisms? Why are there such mind-boggling numbers of animal and plant species in hot and wet tropical places?" Rabosky said.
The Packard Foundation established the fellowships program in 1988 to provide young scientists with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and to explore new frontiers in their fields of study. Each year, the foundation invites 50 universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration. The Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel, a group of 12 internationally recognized scientists and engineers, evaluates the nominations and recommends fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees.
"Dan richly deserves this award. He is an extraordinarily creative and talented scientist who is taking on some of the most challenging questions in biology. We are fortunate to have him as a colleague," said Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil, chair of the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Since 1988, the foundation has awarded $346 million to support 523 scientists and engineers from 52 top U.S. universities. The Packard Fellowships are among the nation's largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility on how the funding is used. Packard Fellows have gone on to receive additional awards and honors that include the Nobel Prize, the Fields Medal, the Alan T. Waterman Award, the MacArthur Fellowships, and election to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
The Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering was inspired by David Packard's commitment to strengthen university-based science and engineering programs in the United States, recognizing that the success of the Hewlett-Packard Co., which he co-founded, was derived in large measure from research and development in university laboratories.