Weizhe Hong, an assistant professor of biological chemistry and neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is one of 18 outstanding young scientists to be awarded the Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering for 2018.   

Hong’s laboratory seeks to understand how animals, including humans, exhibit a broad range of complex social interaction that are crucial to their survival and well-being. Hong and colleagues use optogenetics, imaging, genomics and machine learning to study how networks of neurons in the brain control social behaviors and how those networks become disturbed in disorders such as autism spectrum disorder.

Packard fellowships, which are presented by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, enable the nation’s most promising early-career professors to pursue science and engineering research with few funding restrictions and limited reporting requirements.

“By providing the freedom for brilliant young scholars to pursue new frontiers in science, this prestigious award will allow Weizhe Hong to further explore and expand our understanding of how the brain works,” said Dr. Kelsey Martin, dean of the Geffen School of Medicine. “This type of scientific exploration can eventually lead to the development of new treatments for a range of neurological and psychiatric disorders.”

The fellowships, which were established in 1988, are among the nation’s largest non-governmental fellowships. Nominees are put forward by 50 university presidents, and recipients are chosen by an advisory panel of scientists and engineers reviews. The grants are worth $875,000 over five years.

Hong joined UCLA in 2016 after completing a Helen hay Whitney postdoctoral fellowship at the Caltech and earning a doctorate from Stanford University. He also has received a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award, in 2018; and a Searle Scholar Award and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation research fellowship, both in 2017; among other honors.

“It really is amazing to see what brilliant researchers can do when given the room to take big risks,” said Frances Arnold, chair of the Packard Fellowships advisory panel, in a statement. “And I’m not only talking about their impressive contributions to their fields — I’m also talking about building entirely new disciplines and giving back to the next generation of scientists.”