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The George Burch Fellowship in Theoretic Medicine and Affiliated Theoretic Science

photo of George E Burch

George E Burch


Dr. George E. Burch Jr., was an award-winning cardiologist who established this fellowship through his generosity in the hope that it would “provide the means for future significant discovery and advances in knowledge.”

The George E. Burch Fellowship Program supports independent post-doctoral research or study related to Smithsonian collections, facilities, or experts in the fields of medicine, biology, chemistry, the social sciences, and the humanities as they apply to apply to health and medicine.


The purpose of the George E. Burch Fellowship is to “support a distinguished scholar in residence at the Smithsonian. The fellow may work in any discipline, but the creative effort should, in accordance with the wishes of the donor, be related to medicine. Dr. Burch’s goal is to permit the fellowship recipient time to think with freedom and creativity, and thereby stimulate new medically related theories in his or her discipline.


The fellowship is eligible for post-doctoral scholars, whose research interests lie within medicine, biology, physics, chemistry, and fields in the social science and humanities, as it applies to health and medicine.

For this fellowship Dr. George E. Burch envisioned awardees who not only possess a strong interest in health or medicine, but have been confined by their usual responsibilities and overlooked by traditional funding sources.

The recipient must be in residence at the Smithsonian Institution.

How It Works

Applicants must propose research that is conducted at the Smithsonian in an area of research outlined in the publication, Smithsonian Opportunities for Research and Study (SORS). Applicants should contact staff members to help identify potential advisors, determine the feasibility of the proposed research being conducted at the Smithsonian Institution, and the availability of relevant resources such as staff, collections, archives and library materials during the proposed tenure dates. Current Smithsonian research staff members can be found here.

Applications are evaluated and fellows are selected, by scholars, on the basis of the proposal’s merit, the applicant’s ability to carry out the proposed research and study, the likelihood that the research could be completed in the requested time, and the extent to which the Smithsonian, through its research staff members and resources, could contribute to the proposed research. The number of appointments made each year is determined by the availability of funds for the program.

Applications must be submitted by December 1, 2017.

The George E. Burch Fellowship carries a base stipend of $60,000 plus allowances for research, travel relocation, and health insurance, which vary with each award offer.

How to Apply:

Apply Through: SOLAA

The application for centrally funded George E. Burch Fellowship is not listed under the museum, research facility or office in which the applicant proposes to conduct research. Applicants for centrally funded George E. Burch Fellowship need to select the application found under the Office of Fellowships in SOLAA.

  • Applications must be received no later than 11:59 pm EST on December 1, 2017 via SOLAA
  • You should correspond with your proposed Smithsonian advisor(s) as you prepare your proposal (being sure to discuss potential research costs) with your proposed advisor(s) before submitting your application
  • All application materials must be presented in English (foreign transcripts may be translated)

Once you have created an account and logged into SOLAA you will need to complete all the required information including:

  • Mailing address
  • Academic history
  • Current university or college

Please be sure to apply for the correct year program cycle.

The following must be uploaded with your application:


  • No more than one page

Research Proposal

  • The full statement of your research you plan to undertake at the Smithsonian
  • Maximum six pages double spaced (not including references)
  • Paper size should be 8.5 by 11 inches (210 mm x 297 mm)
  • 12 point type

In preparing your proposal, be sure to provide and address the following:

  • Methodology
  • The importance of the work both in relation to the broader discipline and to your own scholarly goals and it’s relation to health and medicine
  • Justification for conducting your research at the Smithsonian and utilization of research facilities and resources
  • Identification of the member of the Smithsonian’s research staff who might serve as your principal advisor/host
  • Identification of potential co-advisor(s) and/or consultant(s) if applicable

Time Table

  • Estimate of time period for each phase of the research proposed
  • This needs to be uploaded for the application material name “Other” in SOLAA
  • The dates of tenure proposed in the application (and any change of dates if the fellowship is awarded) should be selected in agreement with the proposed principal advisor

Budget and Justification

  • Budget and justification for equipment, supplies, research-related travel costs, and other support required to conduct the research itself up to $4,000
  • Do not include stipend and/or relocation costs
  • If the funds exceed the maximum research allowance, please explain the source of additional funds


  • Bibliography of literature relevant to the applicant’s proposed research

Curriculum Vitae

  • Including previous and current fellowships, grants, and/or awards, and a description of your research interests.
  • If English is not your native language, describe the level of your proficiency in reading, conversing, and writing in English

Transcripts (unofficial are acceptable)

  • Transcripts (or other materials when transcripts are not issued) from all appropriate institutions are required except for senior fellowship applications
  • Applicants for George E. Burch Fellowship need only submit graduate transcripts
  • If transcripts or other materials are not in English the applicant should provide translations


  • Names and email addresses of two persons familiar with your work. Ideally, don’t make your proposed SI advisor one of your referees because they already will have an opportunity to offer feedback about your proposal as part of the application review process
  • All reference letters are considered confidential unless confidentiality has been waived by the reference
  • Provide a copy of your proposal to your references
  • Through SOLAA you will send an email to these referees so they can provide references through the web

In order to have the greatest impact on a candidate’s application, referees are asked to submit references no later than the application due date. However, references can be included with a candidate’s application packet up to one month after the application due date. Please note that while not having references included with an application does not automatically disqualify an application, the absence of references may weaken a proposal in the eyes of reviewers.


Past Fellows


1991 – Dr. Paul Ewald (Burch Fellow at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute): Research in Evolutionary Epidemiology

In 1991, Dr. Ewald was offered an appointment as the first Burch Fellow in Theoretical Medicine and Affiliated Science. Dr. Ewald was researching the evolutionary development of pathogens such cholera, small pox tuberculosis, malaria, and dysentery.

From Dr. Ewald’s research he produced the Evolution of Infectious Disease which was published January 1994. The author, (Dr. Ewald) presents the first detail explanation of an evolutionary perspective on infectious disease.


1994 – Pedro E. Azofeira, (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): Research on Theoretical and Applied Aspects of Vertebrate Genetics

Pedro León Azofeifa, a biologist, is director of the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Costa Rica.  He established the first molecular biology lab in Costa Rica, in which he conducted research in genetics and molecular biology for 25 years.  His communication skills were recognized by the medical students of the San Juan de Dios Hospital in 2002 with the “Quijote” award for teaching.  He serves as scientific advisor to former Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias Sánchez, and was instrumental in establishing the National Park system of Costa Rica.  Dr. León is a founding member of the National Academy of Sciences–Costa Rica, foreign associate of the Latin American Academy of Sciences (ACAL), and foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States since 2004.

1995 – Dr. Ronald Walsworth (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): Investigation of Laser-Polarized Xenon Magnetic Resonance for Biomedical Application

Dr. Walsworth Burch Fellowship was at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and was seed funding that led to the development of a new form of open-access, walk-in MRI for lung imaging, with the first human-approved version of this new medical imaging technology now located and being used at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Walsworth is a co-discoverer of the light storage technique using electromagnetically induced transparency. Development of astro-combs to aid discovery of Earth-like planets around other stars; precision spin measurements and magnetometry using Nitrogen Vacancy centers in diamond; precise tests of physical laws and symmetries using atomic clocks; and biomedical and materials science investigations using MRI of hyperpolarized noble gas and nanoparticles.

1996 – Dr. Tracie E. Bunton (National Zoological Park): Research on the Evolution of Regulatory Gene Clusters in Vertebrates

Dr. Bunton was a Burch Fellow at the National Zoological Park. Dr. Bunton set up a laboratory to further study fish skin carcinogenesis. She used the RNA data to establish a DNA library of regulatory gene clusters in invertebrates. During Dr. Bunton fellowship she was a presenter at the annual meeting of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Also, she was a presenter at the World Health Organization International Agency for research on cancer working groups in Lyon, France.



1999 – Steven Weiner (Museum Conservation Institute)Biomineralization Process: the Study of Mineral Formation by Organisms

Mr. Weiner was studying mineral formation by small vertebrate animal’s tissue at the Museum Conservation Institute formally known as Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education. During his study he was able to find mRNA and cDNA samples from the tissues which were placed into a collection library. Mr. Weiner purified and characterized the aragonite nucleating protein from the specimens in order to sequence and identify the cDNA. Once this was done, he compared the data from his mollusk library to the mollusk library at University of California at Santa Barbara. This information was shared with Smithsonian staff members Kay Behrensmeyer, Richard Potts, and along with his partner Dr. Noreen Tuross.


2000 – Mary Hagedorn (National Zoological Park): Developing Strategies to Preserve Fish Embryos through Cryopreservation

Ms. Hagedorn, studied endangered species of fish and depleted fisheries globally. In addition to, she worked on developing strategies to preserve fish embryos through cryopreservation. She is a physiologist who has pioneered many state-of-the-art techniques that may help save our coral reefs. She received her Ph.D. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is a Research Scientist at the National Zoological Park at the Smithsonian Institution and an Affiliate Faculty at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. She has worked in aquatic ecosystems around the world, and is a successful researcher and active grant writer. In 2000, she received the prestigious George E. Burch Fellowship in Theoretic Medicine and Affiliated Theoretic Sciences, and in 2005 was nominated as a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation. Dr. Hagedorn has developed a conservation program for coral species, using cryobiology, the understanding of cellular systems under cold conditions, and cryopreservation, the freezing of sperm and embryos. In this approach, the embryos and sperm are frozen and placed into liquid nitrogen where they remain frozen, but alive for decades in a genetic bank.

2002 – Jane Buikstra (National Museum of Natural History):Uncovering the Evolutionary History of Tuberculosis in the Western World

Professor of Bioarchaeology at Arizona State University,

Jane Ellen Buikstra is an American anthropologist and bioarchaeologist. She is credited with coining and defining bioarchaeology in the US as the application of biological anthropological methods to the study of archaeological problems.

Ms. Buikstra was working on sample acquisition, project organization, laboratory setup, and testing of bone samples for preservation of ancient DNA. Ms. Buikstra acquired sample from 20 different sites from around the world. Ms. Buikstra project was to determine if tuberculosis existed in the Western World prior to the arrival of Columbus.

The samples were sent to Dr. Noreen Tuross for collagen testing and immunological assays. Dr. Tuross confirmed some of Ms. Buikstra’s samples did contain tuberculosis antibodies that existed in the Western World prior to the arrival of Columbus.

2004 – Eric Silver (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): Developing a Microcalorimeter with Scanning Electron Microscope to Map the Chemical Composition of Cells

Senior Astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Mr. Silver used mutilpe microcalorimeter’s to map the chemical composition of cellular constitiuents of Supernova’s. He used the microcalorimeter to examine the X-rays and gamma rays of the electromagnetic spectrum. Mr. Silver used the data to develop new techniques to examine cell metablism, cell structure, and the detection of diseased cells.

2007 – Sergey Dobretsov (Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce): Quorum Sensing Inhibitors from Marine Organisms

Associate Professor at Sultan Qaboos University (Oman)

Bacteria can communicate among one another using simple chemical signal molecules. The process of production, release, detection and response to signal molecules called “quorum sensing” (QS). QS process provides a unique opportunity to prevent bacterial attachment, biofilm formation, and toxin production. During my Burch project I have been screening extracts of marine organisms, such as cyanobacteria, algae, and sponges for the production of QS inhibitors. Several QS inhibitors have been isolated and identified from cyanobacteria with the help of scientists from Smithsonian Marine Station, Fort Pierce, Florida. These results have been published in 3 peer-review publications. One of this compounds – malyngolide – produced by the “algal-like cyanobacterium Lyngbia majuscula prevented growth of dangerous human pathogens by interfering with their QS signals. The results of his study suggested that QS inhibitors can be used as new drugs to control antibiotic resistant infections in the future. For Dr. Dobretsov, it was a great experience to work with the leading scientists from the Smithsonian Institute. Dr. Dobretsov is an Associate Professor at Sultan Qaboos University (Oman) and this project had helped him to build up a natural product laboratory at his university. Additionally, Dr. Dobretsov maintains tight contact with the scientists from Smithsonian Marine Station, which will lead to new join projects in the future.

2009 – Dr. Matthew Schneps (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): Developmental Learning Disabilities Research

As Director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Dr. Schneps investigated how individual differences in people’s neurology (e.g., due to dyslexia, ADHD, or autism) interact with their abilities to learn and/or perform functions important for science-related careers.  Thanks to the fellowship, he was  able to carry out a number of groundbreaking investigations that have opened in new directions for research, areas we are currently pursuing with new funding from external agencies such as the National Science Foundation.  One important result is that we were able to identify a new method for reading using e-reading devices that helps people with dyslexia read much more easily.  The fellowship helped kick start research programs that would have been impossible otherwise, and gave important credibility to the pioneering work in this field. The Burch Fellowship has been an invaluable opportunity.


2011 – Max Teplitski, (Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce): Microbial Shields: An Investigation of the Role of Beneficial Bacteria in the Health of Symbiotic Organisms

Dr. Teplitski, Associate Professor at the University of Florida, focuses on understanding the curative functions of native microorganisms.  It has been known for decades that beneficial bacteria (probiotics, biocontrol agents, etc) have a role in the health of host.  We have recently demonstrated that native coral-associated microbes have the potential to disrupt progression of a coral disease under laboratory conditions using a model system.  With the George E. Burch Fellowship, I have a unique opportunity to work with the world’s best team of marine chemical ecologists (led by Dr. Valerie Paul) at the SMS at Fort Pierce, and also have access to reef ecosystems where we can observe the consequences of these interactions. Even though I am only a few months into the project, this has been a tremendous opportunity and a rewarding (steep!) learning curve.  We have already had a chance to collect two sets of samples in Belize and are currently in the process of analyzing them.  

2012 – Dr. Joanna Christodoulou, (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): The Exploration of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Boredom.

Dr. Joanna A. Christodoulou works at the intersection of education and neuroscience. Her program of research, conducted at MIT in the Gabrieli Lab, focuses on neural and behavioral correlates of development, difficulties, and intervention effects for reading and language throughout the lifespan.

Her research has been supported by organizations including the Smithsonian Burch Fellowship; the Spencer Foundation; the Fulbright Foundation; the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative at Harvard; and the National Institutes of Health. She has worked as a reading instructor, taught courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and has led professional development workshops for educators and parents. Her role as a clinician at Boston Children’s Hospital informs her work. She earned a Masters in Applied Child Development from Tufts University, a Masters in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE), and an Ed.D. in Human Development and Psychology from HGSE.

2012 – Dr. Bobby Kasthuri, (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): Creating Connectomes with Electron Microscopy.

Harvard Professor, Dr.  Kasthuri studied brain development from infants to adult’s nervous system. The Burch Fellowship allowed him to make a major advance in brain development through collaborative working with previous Burch Fellow Dr. Ronald Walsworth and his research group at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Dr.  Kasthuri, has invented a unique electron knife to understand the working of the brain. Using this special knife they are slicing thousands and thousands segments of the brain and analyzing each layer on a supercomputer and then color coding the neurons to plot how they respond to various signals. It is one of the foremost researches on brain and neuro analysis.

2014 – Crystal Kelehear Graham (STRI): Testing the enemy release hypothesis: the global spread of cane toads as an accidental experiment in evolution

Dr. Crystal Kelehear’s background is primarily in ecology and evolution, specializing in herpetology, invasive species, parasitology and wildlife disease.  Her PhD research focused on questions regarding disease emergence, parasite life-history evolution, and hostparasite ecology, using the invasive cane toad and its parasites in Australia as a model system. 



2014 – Caroline Solazzo (MCI): A proteomics approach to the study of paleopathologies in ancient human tissues

As a Burch Fellow, Dr. Caroline Solazzo’s research focuses on the proteomics analysis of hair and soft tissues from mummies.  This is to better understand the preservation or biodegradation of proteins over time. 





2014 – Katie Edwards (NZP): Using an epidemiological approach to identify factors related to health and reproduction of zoo elephants

A component that plays a major role in Dr. Katie Edwards’ project is how factors such as enrichment, feeding, exercise, and exhibit design are related to health conditions known to afflict zoo elephants.  She explores biomarkers of disease and musculoskeletal condition.




2014 – Eugenio Santillan (SERC): The distribution of Hg methylation genes in natural environments: Insights into the locations of active methylmercury production in ecosystems

Currently working for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a Burch Fellow, Dr. Eugenio “Jay” Santillan studied the organisms and genes involved in cycling Mercury (Hg) contaminating the environment.  He also sought to understand the extent to which Methylmercury (MeHg) production is happening as well as the possible routes for entry into the human foodweb. 

Dr. Santillan has a diverse, interdisciplinary background in microbial ecology, microbial physiology, and geochemistry with a special interest in subsurface microbiology and geochemistry, microbes in petroleum systems, and environmental microbiology and geochemistry. 

2014 – Wanda Diaz-Merced (SAO): Investigating cross-modal brain plasticity among populations of expert adults in cases of late onset blindness

During the XXIX International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly Annual Conference in Honolulu, HI, Dr. Wanda Diaz-Merced conducted an experiment to test a perception technique that uses sound as an adjunct for visual processing, facilitating the identification of signal in noisy data. The techniques purpose is to enhance one’s ability to spot low-level features in data and to facilitate data analysis by scientists with impaired vision.

As a researcher, Wanda is particularly interested in scientists with impaired eyesight because she is blind herself. Late-onset diseases that affect the visual system, such as diabetes and glaucoma, are among the leading causes of blindness in adults in the United States. Unlike children who lose their sight while still young, adults who develop late-onset blindness are often already installed in successful careers. As a consequence, they must be retrained to make use of technological accommodations if they are to retain quality of life. This is especially true for adults who have unique visual expertise prior to blindness, say, because they were astronomers, engineers, scientists, or physicians. As part of her extremely innovative research during her fellowship this past year, Wanda has focused on what sounds stars make rather than how they look and how their sounds can detect patterns in large amounts of astrophysical data.

2015 – Molly McDonough (NMNH): Understanding the Evolutionary Origins of Smallpox

Dr. Molly McDonough’s interests lie in molecular systematics, taxonomy, and phylogeography of small mammals, particularly African rodents.  As a George Burch Fellow, Dr. McDonough investigates smallpox’s origin in order to better understand what factors lead to the emergence of human diseases.  This knowledge will arm us to prevent smallpox-like viruses from emerging in the future.




2015 – Dina Fonseca (NZP): Genomics For Control of Mosquito-borne Diseases

By working at the National Zoological Park as a George Burch fellow, Dr. Dina Fonseca set out to create novel approaches to protect against vector-borne diseases, which threaten humans and wildlife, while furthering understanding of insect evolution.  Dr. Fonseca’s proposed research also sought to uncover potential targets for the development of new repellents and control strategies. Along those lines, she intended to uncover critical genes in the sex determination pathway of mosquitoes in order to improve sterile male approaches for mosquito control.  She worked on the ecology and evolution of mosquitoes, particularly those introduced during the last 1-400 years into new areas.

2015 – Leo Buss (NMNH): Colonial Hydroids as Models of Circulatory Networks: Topology, Dynamics and Optimization

As a Burch Fellow, Dr. Leo Buss seeks to apply empirical and computational tools to explore the circulatory system of colonial hydrozoans as a model system for the study of human circulatory networks (i.e., capillary beds and the vasculature of certain tissues).  His ultimate goal will be to determine whether observed vascular designs reflect topologies required to generate a coherent network flow dynamics (e.g., synchronization) or reflects an optimization (e.g., energy minimization) or both.

2016 – Marc Tran Valitutto (NZP): Screening zoonotic viruses in African and Asian pangolins, the most common animal in the illegal wildlife trade.

Dr. Valitutto has extensive experience with clinical medicine and infectious disease in a wide variety of species, and a particular interest in pangolins

During his time as a George Burch Fellow, Dr. Marc Valitutto will sample wild and confiscated pangolins and screen them for viruses considered of relatively high risk of significant disease spill over at the human-wildlife interface. The aim of this study will be to sample at least 100 total pangolins, collecting blood, respiratory secretions, and tissues as available, and screen them using established PREDICT PCR protocols.  His project aims to build regional capacity to identify threats to global health at the human-wildlife interface, while gathering information on the threats to human and wildlife sustainability from the illegal trade in wildlife.

2016 – Thomas Sauvage (NMNH): Elucidating terpene biosynthetic genes (TPS/CYP) in the chemically-defended genus Caulerpa (Chlorophyta).

Dr. Thomas Sauvage studies the molecular diversity of siphonous green algae.  As a Burch Fellow, he proposed to elucidate the molecular diversity, expression and chromosomal organization of terpene biosynthetic genes (TPS/CYP) through transcriptome and targetted sequencing of the nuclear genome of C. ashmeadii. This research will provide insights into the genetic machinery underlying the production of terpenes in this genus, and more broadly the Chlorophyta, for future metabolic engineering and biomedical applications.

2016 – Sarah Annalise Gignoux-Wolfsohn (SERC): The Case for Biodiversity: Testing the Dilution Effect on Oyster Diseases.

Dr. Sarah Gignoux-Wolfsohn is a disease ecologist focused on marine systems.  She uses genetic tools to examine marine diseases from both the host and pathogen sides and is also interested in the broader implications of marine diseases on our changing global health.  Focused on better understanding the Caribbean coral disease white band disease, Dr. Gignoux-Wolfsohn has helped to characterize the spread of this disease and is am currently working on identifying bacteria associated it.

While studying as a Burch Fellow, she proposes to test the hypothesis that increased host biodiversity leads to decreased pathogen prevalence (termed the dilution effect).  This study will greatly increase our understanding of the distribution and interaction of oyster pathogens and will inform the use of biodiversity as a mechanism of disease resistance in conservation, restoration, and aquaculture.

2016 – Kelly Bennett (STRI): Population history and adaptive landscape of the invasive arbovirus vectors Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.

Through the George Burch Fellowship, Dr. Kelly Bennet will conduct a comparative population genomics study to provide insight into the evolutionary dynamics of Aedes. Specifically, this means she will generate high-resolution genomic data for both species from sites that differ in basic environmental parameters, human demography, vector control strategies and the presence/absence of mosquito competitors. This data will allow her to reconstruct the demographic history of Aedes and so provide a wider context for understanding the evolutionary imprint underlying invasion.

Dr. Bennett will test for signals of local adaptation important for the persistence, spread and competitive interactions of both mosquitoes. Moreover, she will determine the extent of connectivity between populations, which is not only fundamental for understanding geographic genetic structure in tropical arthropods, but will also provide key considerations for the design of an effective population control strategy.  The overall aim of Dr. Bennett’s project is to contribute evolutionary and ecological parameters for use in computational models of arboviral disease control for predicting and managing future outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya in Panama.



How can I apply?

Apply through SOLAA

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