Columbia University in the City of New York

Zenna Tavares, PhD, the institute's first innovation scholar

Supporting creative, self-directed research through collaborations and mentorships

The Zuckerman Institute's Innovation Scholars program aims to foster a diverse group of talented early-career scholars who can excel in independent trajectories. During their time at the Institute, Innovation Scholars are expected to advance an innovative research program and contribute to the community life of the Institute.


Innovation Scholars are appointed for up to five years as research scientists with principal investigator status at the Zuckerman Institute. They benefit from broad-ranging collaboration opportunities and chances at structured mentorship, including guidance from faculty hosts and a committee of advisors, as well as competitive financial support. 


Zenna Tavares, PhD, joined Columbia's Zuckerman Institute in 2021 as its inaugural Innovation Scholar. He aims to create machines that reason about the real world in ways inspired by the human mind and brain. Drawing on neuroscience, computer science, cognitive science, logic and philosophy, Dr. Tavares seeks to distill the mental strategies that we use to build models of the world around us into mathematical algorithms for machines. During his graduate studies at MIT, he created a new programming language, Omega, designed to explore what-if scenarios, which a health organization in Tanzania recently started using to help make medical diagnoses, and others have used to figure out how biomolecules react.


About Zenna Tavares


Zenna Tavares is an associate research scientist at both the Zuckerman Institute and Columbia's Data Science Institute, the first joint hire between two university-level institutes at Columbia University. A former Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Tavares earned a master's in biomedical engineering with neurotechnology from Imperial College London, a master's in electronic engineering with Japanese at the University of Nottingham and Osaka University, and a PhD in cognitive science and statistics from MIT.