Siranush Babakhanova and Michal Gala named 2020 Knight-Hennessy Scholars

Julia Mongo | Office of Distinguished Fellowships
Published by MIT News on May 5, 2020

Two MIT seniors, Siranush Babakhanova and Michal Gala, have been awarded Knight-Hennessy Scholarships. The prestigious fellowship attracts thousands of applicants from around the world and provides full funding for graduate studies in any field at Stanford University. Knight-Hennessy scholars also receive leadership development training, mentorship, and experiential learning opportunities.

The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program aims to address the world’s challenges through innovation and collaboration by developing a community of emerging leaders equipped to work across disciplines and cultures. Up to 90 scholars are selected each year.

Citizens of all countries are eligible to apply. In accordance with its goal of global impact, the program seeks to select two-thirds of its scholars from outside the United States. In addition to academic excellence, selection criteria include independence of thought, purposeful leadership, and civic mindset.

“We are very proud that Michal and Siranush will represent MIT in the Knight Hennessy community,” says Benard. “They both are exceptional examples of creative researchers, who are working on issues that will improve our world.”

Siranush Babakhanova, from Yerevan, Armenia, will graduate this May with a BS in physics. At Stanford University, she will pursue a PhD in biophysics at Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences.

Babakhanova aspires to apply physical and computational sciences to build tools to read, manipulate, and augment complex biological systems. She has worked on exo-atmosphere-wide simulations at NASA, and designed tools for deep brain imaging and in situ proteomics with Professor Ed Boyden in the Synthetic Neurobiology Group at the MIT Media Lab. She co-founded Xapiens, MIT’s first human augmentation and brain-machine interface club, served as president of the MIT Armenian Society, and advised on projects for MIT’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

Babakhanova was the first Armenian woman to win each of six International Olympiad awards. Her teams earned second place in the NASA BIG Idea Challenge and she was a grant recipient for the Council for Arts at MIT; a program fellow for NSF GRFP, Interact and ADVANCE; and a Hertz Foundation Fellowship finalist.

Michal Gala, from Gliwice, Poland, will graduate in May with a BS in chemical engineering. As a Knight-Hennessy scholar, he will embark on a PhD in chemical engineering at Stanford School of Engineering.

Gala aspires to engineer novel clean processes and technologies that will create the chemical industry of the future and help solve the problem of climate change. At MIT, he tackled similar problems experimentally and computationally.

Gala has interned at Shell in India and Schlumberger developing artificial intelligence tools for accelerated materials discovery and property prediction. Throughout his time at MIT, he worked on electrochemical ammonia synthesis, elucidating key parts of this promising technology, for which he was recognized as one of 25 under 25 in Science by Polish Forbes.

Gala served as vice-president of the MIT chapter of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and was actively involved with the MIT Gordon Engineering Leadership Program.

MIT students interested in applying for the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship may contact Kim Benard, assistant dean of distinguished fellowships in Career Advising and Professional Development. The deadline to apply for the program’s 2021 cohort is Oct. 10.

By Julia Mongo
Julia Mongo Staff Writer and Advisor