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“A Researcher To Watch”: Neurobiologist Moriel Zelikowsky Awarded Sloan Fellowship

by Juile Kiefer

In recognition of creativity, leadership and achievements in research, neurobiologist Moriel Zelikowsky, Ph.D., assistant professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at University of Utah Health, has received a 2020 Sloan Research Fellowship. She is one of 126 early career researchers from across the U.S. and Canada to earn the prestigious accolade from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

“To receive a Sloan Research Fellowship is to be told by your fellow scientists that you stand out among your peers,” says Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “A Sloan Research Fellow is someone whose drive, creativity and insight makes them a researcher to watch.”

In today’s society, stress-related mental health disorders and feelings of loneliness are on the rise but much remains to be learned about the neurological basis behind these behaviors and how to alleviate them. To gain new insights, Zelikowsky is investigating the neural circuitry underlying stress, fear and social behavior. Her investigations combine detailed behavioral analysis with cellular and molecular methodologies in order to formulate an in-depth understanding of the effects of social isolation stress on neural circuits and mechanisms.

Her goals are to understand changes in brain function during and after stress, and make advances toward new treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders.

“I hope that this research makes strides towards understanding how certain emotion states are encoded in the brain, and how these states alter various aspects of behavior - from violence and mating to fear and anxiety,” says Zelikowsky.

“I am honored and humbled to be a Sloan recipient, and grateful to all the wonderful people in my lab who make the research possible,” she adds.

Zelikowsky carried out her graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology where she was named a L’Oréal USA Women in Science Fellow. She started as faculty at the University of Utah in 2019.

“We are thrilled that Moriel has received recognition and support from the Sloan Foundation for her exciting work on the effects of social isolation stress and trauma on fear, anxiety and social behavior,” says Neurobiology and Anatomy chair Monica Vetter, Ph.D. “By deeply probing the neural mechanisms, Moriel’s work has the potential to reveal important new insights into stress-related mental health disorders.”

Open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields—chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics—the Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded in close coordination with the scientific community. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship which can be spent to advance the fellow’s research.

A full list of the 2020 Fellows cohort is available at