Frank O. Aylward, an assistant professor with the Department of Biological Sciences in the Virginia Tech College of Science, has been selected as a 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in Ocean Sciences.

Recipients of 2018 Sloan Research Fellows will receive an award of $65,000, which Aylward will use to fund personnel in his lab and to purchase a server for computational genomic research. “I’m very excited since this will enable some evolutionary genomic work looking at abundant microbial groups found in the ocean” Aylward said.

The Sloan Research Fellowship announced this year’s winners in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times. The awards seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise in the fields of chemistry, computational or evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, ocean sciences, or physics.

Aylward is also an affiliate faculty member of the systems biology program, part of the Academy of Integrated Science within the College of Science, and a member of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech, part of the Fralin Life Science Institute. He researches microbial ecology and diversity, and genomics and metagenomics. His lab focuses on understanding how microbial communities function and the evolutionary forces that shape microbes in the environment.

“Biological sciences is very fortunate to have recruited Dr. Aylward as part of our search in systems biology and bioinformatics last year,” said Brenda Winkel, head of the Department of Biological Sciences. “His research bridges the department’s existing expertise in ecosystems ecology, molecular microbiology, and evolution, bringing powerful computational and genomics approaches to bear on the analysis of microbial communities in a wide variety of environments. We are delighted to see Dr. Aylward recognized with a very prestigious fellowship so early in his career.”

Aylward recently published a paper on microbial communities in the North Pacific in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The research showed the first evidence that diverse viruses have distinct cycles tied to the 24-hour cycles of afternoon and evening. An additional 2017 paper he co-authored in the journal Nature Microbiology focused on cyanobacteria in the ocean.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in in biochemistry from the University of Arizona in 2008 and a doctoral degree in microbiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013, with postdoctoral research work following at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and CEO of General Motors, the New York-based foundation describes itself as a philanthropic, nonprofit, grant-making institution supporting original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics.

Among past winners of the Sloan fellowship at Virginia Tech is Amanda Morris, associate professor of chemistry, also in the College of Science.

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