MIT seniors Desmond Edwards, Michelle Lee, and Syamantak Payra; graduate student Tomás Guarna; and Pranav Lalgudi ’21 have been honored by this year’s Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. They will head to Stanford University this fall to commence their doctoral programs.
Knight-Hennessy Scholars receive full funding for up to three years of graduate studies in any field at Stanford University. Fellows, who hail from countries around the world, also participate in the King Global Leadership Program, which aims to prepare them to become inspiring and visionary leaders who are committed to the greater good.
MIT students seeking more information on the Knight-Hennessy Scholar program can contact Kim Benard, associate dean of distinguished fellowships in Career Advising and Professional Development.
Desmond Edwards, from St. Mary, Jamaica, will graduate this May from MIT with bachelor’s degrees in biological engineering and biology, with a minor in French. As a Knight-Hennessy Scholar, he will embark on a PhD in microbiology and immunology at Stanford School of Medicine. Edwards is interested in infectious diseases — both in understanding their underlying mechanisms and devising novel therapeutics to fulfill unmet patient needs. He further aspires to blend this research with public policy, outreach, and education. He has investigated and engineered host-pathogen interactions in MIT’s Lamason lab and has evaluated AAV gene therapies in Caltech’s Gradinaru lab and at Voyager Therapeutics. Edwards is the first undergraduate to serve as MIT Biotech Group co-president, is president of MIT’s chapter of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honour Society, was co-president of MIT’s Biological Engineering Undergraduate Board, and vice-captained MIT’s Quidditch Team. Edwards is a recipient of MIT’s Whitehead Prize in Biology, MIT’s Peter J Eloranta Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a 2022 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and a 2021 Amgen Scholars Fellowship.
Tomás Guarna, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, will pursue a PhD in Stanford’s Communication Department. He graduated from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella with a degree in social sciences, and then worked in the Office of the President of Argentina’s digital communications team. He is currently completing his SM in comparative media studies at MIT. Guarna aims to explore the role of technology in our civic life, understanding the relations between governments, technology companies, and civil society. Guarna was a Human Rights and Technology Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies and a fellow at MIT’s Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. He will be joining Stanford as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and as a Stanford EDGE Fellow.
Pranav Lalgudi, from San Jose, California, graduated from MIT in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, a minor in data science, and a concentration in philosophy. He will pursue a PhD in genetics at Stanford School of Medicine. Lalgudi is keen to answer fundamental questions in biology to improve our understanding of human health. At MIT, he uncovered how cells regulate metabolism in response to nutrients, processes which are disrupted in cancer and diabetes. He previously worked at Stanford, creating new tools for studying the genetic diversity of cancers. Lalgudi aspires to make academic research more collaborative, rigorous, and accessible. He is also passionate about addressing inequities in access to education and has worked at schools in Spain and Italy to develop more interactive STEM curricula for students. Lalgudi’s research has been accepted for publication in several peer-reviewed journals, including Nature, and he was awarded the NSF GRFP and NDSEG Fellowships.
Michelle Lee, from Seoul, South Korea, is an MIT senior majoring in chemistry. She will continue on at Stanford for a PhD in chemistry as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and NSF GRFP Fellow. Lee’s goal is to understand and precisely manipulate the cellular machinery with synthetic molecules, which will open a door for novel, efficient, and affordable therapeutic strategies, especially in curing genetic diseases. At MIT, she designed a small molecule “switch” to CRISPR activity, which can precisely manipulate the activity of CRISPR-Cas protein, increasing its efficacy and reducing off-target effects. She also designed an affordable, rapid “mix-and-read” Covid-19 diagnostics tool for use in low- and middle-income countries, the work for which she was a first author of a publication. Lee has pushed to increase the accessibility of education by leading multiple educational enrichment programs.
Syamantak Payra, from Friendswood, Texas, will graduate this spring from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and minors in public policy and in entrepreneurship and innovation. He will pursue a PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford School of Engineering as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow. Alongside creating new biomedical devices that can help improve daily life for patients worldwide, Payra aspires to shape American educational and scientific ecosystems to better empower upcoming generations. At MIT, he conducted research creating digital sensor fibers that have been woven into health-monitoring garments and next-generation spacesuits. He has organized and led literacy and STEM outreach programs benefiting a thousand underprivileged students nationwide. Payra earned multiple first-place awards at International Science and Engineering Fairs, placed ninth in the 2018 Regeneron Science Talent Search, was inducted into the National Gallery of America’s Young Inventors, and was an Astronaut Scholar, Coca-Cola Scholar, and U.S. Presidential Scholar.