NOMIS celebrates its Distinguished Scientist Award 2017 winners

Karl Deisseroth, Tony Wyss-Coray and Svante Pääbo

NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award 2017

— Recognizing not only scientific excellence, but also celebrating researchers who push for unconventional paths and show exceptional engagement in insight-driven research and collaboration, the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award 2017 was presented to Karl Deisseroth, Tony Wyss-Coray, and Svante Pääbo on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 at the Gottlieb-Duttweiler-Institute (GDI) in Rüschlikon, Switzerland. Founded on the principle that the facility should be a place for reflection on socially significant ideas, the GDI served as the perfect venue.

With over 100 guests, among them top scientists and scholars, representatives of world-renowned research institutes, and a number of research funders from both Switzerland and Germany, the ceremony was a culmination of acknowledging not only the relevance of basic research but also the importance of a mutualistic relationship between researchers and research funders.

Tony Wyss-Coray, Karl Deisseroth, Svante Pääbo and Elizabeth Blackburn (l-r) considering the importance of basic research in an increasingly outcomes-oriented environment during a panel discussion moderated by NOMIS Board Member Martin Hetzer (r)

The award ceremony was followed by a panel discussion with Nobel Laureate and president of the Salk Institute, Elizabeth Blackburn, and the three awardees. The discussion addressed topics such as how scientists protect creativity and innate curiosity when confronted with the expectation that they must produce tangible results, how they approach risk in research, and the public perception of their science. Concluding with a networking dinner, the event showed to be a meaningful opportunity for an informed, lively and engaging exchange of ideas.

Prior to the award ceremony, the awardees presented their work at a public lecture series at ETH Zurich on Wednesday, Oct. 18 and at the University of Zurich on Thursday, Oct. 19. 

Karl Deisseroth (r) receives the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award from NOMIS Board Member Nilüfer Göle (l)

Deisseroth’s lecture, “Illuminating the brain,” shed light on his groundbreaking work in neuroscience. Deisseroth is widely recognized for developing and implementing an approach to biology called optogenetics, a technique that involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue. The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award enables Deisseroth and his team to implement the project ‘”Circuit States: Discovering the Causal Principles Underlying Brain-wide Dynamics,” which will adapt and combine new technologies developed in Deisseroth’s lab. The awardee hopes to gain insights into the interacting functions of neurons across multiple brain areas.

Svante Pääbo (center) receives the NOMIS award from NOMIS Board Member Catharina Kahane (l) and NOMIS Managing Director Markus Reinhard (r)

A founder of paleogenetics, Svante Pääbo became best known for his pathbreaking research on the Neandertal genome. Pääbo’s lecture, “A neandertal view of human uniqueness,” described his quest to learn more about the genetic differences and functional consequences that occurred at the split between the modern human and their archaic human ancestors about half a million years ago. The NOMIS award enables Pääbo’s research on the genetic underpinnings of the human condition and thus potentially provides an additional avenue to study diseases and other conditions that affect uniquely human traits.

Tony Wyss-Coray (center) receives the NOMIS award from NOMIS Board Member Martin Hetzer (l) and NOMIS Managing Director Markus Reinhard (r)

Tony Wyss-Coray’s lecture, “Blood proteins regulating brain function and aging,” described his investigation into the role of aging on neurodegeneration in general and Alzheimer’s disease in particular. His research has shown that the administration of young blood into old organisms has functional consequences, appearing to “rejuvenate” an aged brain. With the support of the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award, Wyss-Coray and his team are setting out on the quest to identify the key proteins and genes that are at the core of this rejuvenating effect, which could produce vital new insights into biological aging.

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Manos Tsakiris, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2016

Manos Tsakiris has been named the first recipient of the NOMIS Distinguished Scientists and Scholars Award. As part of the award and in line with the interdisciplinary vision of the NOMIS Foundation, Tsakiris will lead and develop the Body and Image in Arts and Sciences (BIAS) project at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London. The Warburg Institute is a world-famous institution for the study of cultural history and the role of images in culture, renowned for its cross-disciplinary approach and global reach. The BIAS project aims to address timely research questions at the intersection of the sciences and humanities with a particular focus on the biological mechanisms and cultural factors that shape our relationships to other people in a culture powered by images. In line with Warburg Director David Freedberg’s commitment to building bridges across the boundaries between the humanities, arts and sciences, BIAS seeks to engage with epistemological differences in order to forge new and innovative synergies across the disciplines.

These goals will be addressed through a range of research activities, including basic research, seminars and workshops, and will involve a network of international partners in the humanities, psychological sciences and neuroscience. To develop and implement BIAS, Tsakiris is assembling a research team and establishing a neuroscience lab at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Studies. In bringing together a unique range of methodological techniques and procedures, he and his team will contribute – with support from NOMIS – to a new and unprecedented expansion of the Warburg Institute founder Aby Warburg’s vision of a deeper knowledge of the role of biology in the understanding of culture and cultural history.

Manos Tsakiris studied psychology (Panteion University, Athens) and philosophy (King’s College, London) before completing his PhD (2006) in psychology and cognitive neurosciences at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL. In 2007 he joined the Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, where he is currently professor of psychology. His research is highly interdisciplinary and uses a wide range of methods to investigate the neurocognitive mechanisms that shape the experience of embodiment and self-identity. He is the recipient of the 2014 Young Mind and Brain Prize and of the 22nd Experimental Psychology Society Prize.

He has published widely in multidisciplinary and neuroscientific journals. His research has attracted much interest from the scientific community and from media around the world, appearing in major international news channels such as Reuters, BBC, The Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Figaro, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and Scientific American.