According to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the fellowships are awarded annually to "early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars, the next generation of scientific leaders."
This year's U-M winners are Mi Hee Lim and Sarah Veatch. Lim is an assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and a research assistant professor at the Life Sciences Institute. Veatch is an assistant professor of biophysics and an assistant professor of physics in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
"It's a very, very great honor, and I didn't expect to win it because this is such a competitive fellowship," Lim said. "I am thrilled that the value of our research has been recognized by the Sloan Foundation."
The awards, which were announced by the foundation Wednesday, include a $50,000 fellowship.
Lim's research interests lie in the broad field of inorganic chemistry as it interfaces with biological and medicinal chemistry. In particular, her lab studies how metal ions in the brain may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Lim and her colleagues recently developed simple, small compounds that can bind to metal ions and misfolded proteins. They suspect these compounds may have therapeutic value in treating Alzheimer's disease. But the necessary confirmatory studies have not been done.
"This money (from the Sloan Foundation) will allow us to initiate that confirmation investigation," Lim said.
Veatch studies oily substances called lipids, which form a cell's plasma membrane. Specifically, she is interested in how the physical properties of lipids influence the function of plasma membranes, which play vital biological roles.
"The long-term goal of our research is to see if we can understand how lipids contribute to some basic mechanisms in biology, such as immune signaling and HIV virus assembly," she said.
She said the Sloan funding will enable the lab to upgrade its microscope "so we can do more medically relevant imaging."
"We do a lot of imaging of living cells—at very high spatial resolution in membranes—so that we can see individual proteins and observe how they move and what they interact with," she said. "This funding will extend that work."
Veatch said she's honored by the Sloan award and hopes it will help her launch her career.
"It's wonderful to be recognized by your peers and have them confirm that the work you're doing is promising," she said.
The 2012 Alfred P. Sloan research fellows were selected from scientists and scholars at 51 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. This year's winners included astrophysicists, oceanographers, economists, mathematicians, computer scientists and neuroscientists.
To qualify, candidates must be nominated by their peers, then selected by an independent panel of senior scholars. The fellowships have been awarded since 1955.
"Today's Sloan research fellows are tomorrow's Nobel Prize winners," said Dr. Paul L. Joskow, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "These outstanding men and women are responsible for some of the most exciting science being done today. The foundation is proud to support them during this pivotal stage of their careers."
A complete list of this year's winners is available at www.sloan.org/fellowships/page/21.