Newswise — Twenty-one outstanding scientists. Eight years of financial support. One tight-knit community.

Today, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced the selection of the 2020 Hanna Gray Fellows, a cohort of 21 early career researchers who are taking on some of the biggest challenges in the life sciences, such as understanding the innerworkings of the brain or the complexities of the immune system. By unlocking basic principles, their work could one day ease symptoms in patients with chronic pain, treat kids suffering from pediatric leukemia, and spark new therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases.

“These promising researchers are poised to do groundbreaking work and ready to inspire the next generation of scientists,” says HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “HHMI is excited to welcome our new Hanna Gray Fellows into our community and to support them in their career journeys, as individuals and as a network of leaders changing the face of science.”

As of 2021, HHMI has committed more than $105 million to increasing academic faculty diversity through the Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program, which currently includes 64 fellows (61 postdocs and three early career faculty) and 62 faculty mentors. That investment continues to grow through regular competitions.

The new cohort of Hanna Gray Fellows represents 18 institutions across a broad swath of the United States, from California to Missouri and Michigan to New York. They join a growing community of Hanna Gray Fellows, all at a critical time in their academic careers – the postdoctoral training phase through the transition to becoming a principal investigator. Each fellow will receive up to $1.4 million over eight years.  

The impact of becoming an HHMI Hanna Gray Fellow can be immediate, says 2018 Hanna Gray Fellow Melanie McReynolds, a biochemist at Princeton University: “This is a real commitment to each fellow and their science. People begin to take you seriously because they know HHMI has invested in you.”

In 2016, O’Shea, then HHMI’s chief scientific officer, spearheaded the Hanna H. Gray Fellow Program’s development. The program aims to increase diversity in science by recruiting early career scientists who represent a variety of racial, ethnic, gender, ability, and other underrepresented backgrounds.

In keeping with HHMI’s basic science mission, the program gives fellows the freedom to explore new scientific territory and follow their curiosity, seeking answers to challenging scientific questions. In addition, HHMI staff work to purposefully build a community that can provide professional development and interactive support. After becoming a fellow, “all of a sudden I had a community that looks like me and we’re all successful scientists,” says 2017 Hanna Gray Fellow Christopher Barnes, a structural biologist at the California Institute of Technology who will start his own lab at Stanford University in the fall.

Fellows can connect with each other and HHMI Investigators during annual science meetings and other events held by HHMI, though the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the program to get creative. Last summer, fellows attended a virtual mentor training workshop, and recently, a virtual seminar for one fellow’s practice job talk. That type of practice, along with advice from HHMI scientific officers on job opportunities, “is a major strength of the program,” says 2019 Hanna Gray Fellow Angela Phillips, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the selection of the 2020 cohort until December 2020. A competition for the 2022 cohort of Hanna Gray Fellows will open late this summer. McReynolds says she has already been speaking to interested grad students. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime that could set the trajectory of your career,” she tells them. “So what are you going to do about it?”


About the Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program

The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program represents HHMI’s commitment to supporting talented early career scientists who have the potential to become leaders in academic research. By selecting individuals from groups underrepresented in the life sciences, HHMI seeks to increase diversity among academic faculty. Fellows’ successful careers will inspire future generations of scientists from the United States’ diverse talent pool.

The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program is named for Hanna Holborn Gray, former chair of the HHMI trustees and former president of the University of Chicago. Under Gray’s leadership, HHMI developed initiatives that foster diversity in science education. HHMI continues to carry forward this work on college and university campuses across the US.

The Hanna Gray Fellows will:

Follow their curiosity

In keeping with HHMI’s long-standing approach to support “people, not projects,” fellows have the freedom to change their research focus and follow their curiosity for the duration of the award. The competition is open to researchers and physician-scientists dedicated to basic research in all the biomedical and life science disciplines.

Join a vibrant scientific community

The program provides opportunities for career development, including mentoring and networking with others in the HHMI scientific community. Fellows will also attend an HHMI Science meeting each year. This year’s 21 fellows join 43 current Hanna Gray Fellows selected in 2017, 2018, and 2019, during the program’s first three years.

Receive support during a critical career stage

Fellows will receive funding for their postdoc training and may continue to receive funding during their early career years as independent faculty. In total, fellows may receive up to $1.4 million each and be supported for up to eight years. Applicants may obtain more information and eligibility requirements at


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays an important role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. HHMI’s headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.


2020 Hanna Gray Fellows


Biafra Ahanonu, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Mentor: Allan Basbaum, PhD


James R. Allen, PhD

Massachusetts General HospitalMentor: David Langenau, PhD


Nicolas Altemose, PhD, DPhil

University of California, Berkeley

Mentor: Gary Karpen, PhD


Steve Bonilla, PhD

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Mentor: Jeffrey Kieft, PhD


María Angélica Bravo Núñez, PhD

Harvard University

Mentor: Andrew Murray, PhD


Kyle Card, PhD

Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Mentor: Jacob Scott, MD, DPhil


Ava Carter, PhD

Harvard Medical School

Mentor: Michael Greenberg, PhD


Willow Coyote-Maestas, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Mentor: James Fraser, PhD


Morgan Gilman, PhD

Harvard Medical School

Mentor: Andrew Kruse, PhD


Leah Guthrie, PhD

Stanford University

Mentor: Justin Sonnenburg, PhD


Autumn Holmes, PhD

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Mentor: Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD


Kalli Kappel, PhD

Broad Institute of MIT and HarvardMentor: Aviv Regev, PhD, and Feng Zhang, PhD


David Martinez, PhD

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mentor: Ralph Baric, PhD


Edgar Medina, PhD

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Mentor: Lillian Fritz-Laylin, PhD


Evert Njomen, PhD

The Scripps Research Institute

Mentor: Benjamin F. Cravatt, PhD


Vanessa Puñal, PhD

University of Michigan

Mentor: Josie Clowney, PhD


Sofia Quinodoz, PhD

Princeton University

Mentor: Clifford Brangwynne, PhD


Valeria M. Reyes Ruiz, PhD

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Mentor: Eric P. Skaar, PhD


Marissa Scavuzzo, PhD

Case Western Reserve University

Mentor: Paul Tesar, PhD


Zuri Sullivan, PhD

Harvard University

Mentor: Catherine Dulac, PhD


Guillaume Urtecho, PhD

Columbia University

Mentor: Harris Wang, PhD