Three Finalists Revealed for the 2023 Discovery Prize

$200K Prize Rewards Faculty Advancing Pioneering Scientific Research

Christopher johnson 2
Christopher Johnson

Three exceptional Stony Brook University faculty have been announced as the finalists for the 2023 Stony Brook Foundation Discovery Prize, which supports talented early-career faculty who advance pioneering scientific breakthroughs and play a vital role in elevating Stony Brook to the next level of research excellence and innovation.

The three finalists for the $200,000 Discovery Prize are:

  •   Chris Johnson, associate professor, Department of Chemistry, “A New Platform to Track the Chemistry of Climatically-Relevant but Currently Under-Addressed Ultrafine Aerosol Particles”
  •  Mengkun Liu, associate professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, “Revolutionizing Nano Photonics: Exploring a New Highway for Light Matter Interactions”
  •  Sima Mofakham, assistant professor, Department of Neurosurgery, “Promoting Neurological Recovery Through Self-Organization of Ensembles Encoding Goal-Directed Behavior”
Mengkun liu
Mengkun Liu

The three finalists will present their research on September 18 in the Charles B. Wang Center Theatre at 2:30 pm. All three have worked closely with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in preparation for the delivery of their presentations, which will be evaluated by a panel of distinguished judges. The winner will be announced at the conclusion of these presentations.

To register to attend this special event and for more information on these exceptional scholars, please visit

President Maurie McInnis announced the finalists in a message to the campus community, noting that every day, exceptional researchers and scholars at Stony Brook are helping to solve the world’s most critical challenges.

P133, sima mofakham, neurosurgery
Sima Mofakham

“Stony Brook has earned its stellar reputation as a prestigious research institution because of the many breakthrough discoveries — such as developing the technology for the MRI — made during the past several decades,” McInnis said. “It is crucial that we continue to support fundamental research and encourage our greatest minds to pursue the big ideas that transform lives and make an impact around the world.”

The Discovery Prize was established in 2013 with a generous donation from the Stony Brook Foundation Board of Trustees. The Prize is awarded to an early-career Stony Brook faculty member in the STEM disciplines whose pioneering project embraces risk and innovation and embodies the potential of discovery-driven research — the catalysts for great scientific advances.

Past winners include:

Eszter Boros, an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Chemistry, won the 2021 Stony Brook Discovery Prize for her research on developing new imaging agents and therapeutics for cancer applications.

Il Memming Park, an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Renaissance School of Medicine, won the prize in 2019 for his research on using neurotechnologies and machine learning methods to better understand the brain in unconscious states.

Thomas Allison, an associate professor with a joint appointment between the Department of Chemistry and Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences, won in 2017 for his research on how electrons move within molecules.

Laurie Krug, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Renaissance School of Medicine, won the inaugural Discovery Prize in 2014 for her research on viruses associated with cancer and the idea of delivering molecular scissors to the site of virus infection using nanoparticles.

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