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Annual NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award presented to three outstanding scientists

Recognizing their outstanding contributions to the advancement of science and human progress through their pioneering, innovative and collaborative research, the 2019 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award was presented to Adriano Aguzzi, Janet Currie and Antonio Rangel at the Gottlieb-Duttweiler-Institute (GDI) in Rüschlikon, Switzerland on Oct. 10, 2019.

The NOMIS Award is enabling their investigation into the fundamental mechanisms of neurodegeneration (Aguzzi), the use of big data to identify better therapies for children with mental disorders (Currie), and the neurocomputational basis of simple decision making across species (Rangel). The award recipients were announced earlier this year.

Manos Tsakiris hosts a panel discussion with 2019 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardees Antonio Rangel, Adriano Aguzzi and Janet Currie

Following the ceremony, 2016 NOMIS Awardee Manos Tsakiris led a panel discussion with the new award recipients under the umbrella theme, “Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known” (Carl Sagan). Exploring insight and creativity in science, Tsakiris inquired about the process of discovery that each of the awardees has experienced. Currie discovered that her “eureka moments” were actually the realization that a certain area of study hadn’t yet been done. For Rangel, it has been more about his obsession with questions and the willingness to pursue them with “whatever method, collaboration, approach, perspective” necessary to clarify the answers. Aguzzi has mainly found his insights in the context of communal discussions with colleagues and students, having the “a-ha” moment and then immediately starting plans for the next experiment.

Attended by NOMIS researchers and partners, including top scientists and scholars, representatives of world-renowned research institutes, and research benefactors, the ceremony serves to not only recognize the scientific achievements of the awardees, but also bring together academics from a range of disciplines to network and share ideas. It is the pinnacle of a series of events that took place over the course of two days in the Zurich area — events recognizing the importance of science and research as well as the development of young scientists.

Awardee guest lecture series

Adriano Aguzzi’s guest lecture at ETH Zurich on Oct. 9, 2019

Openly sharing research insights is a core value of the NOMIS Foundation. To that end, each of the awardees presented their work at two leading Swiss institutions. On Oct. 9, Adriano Aguzzi gave a guest lecture at ETH Zurich titled, “The Strange and Scary Biology of Infectious Proteins,” sharing the findings of his decades-long quest to understand prions and their role in neurodegenerative disorders. Speaking to the changing landscape of scientific research, Aguzzi said that, “Science is a global enterprise,” and encouraged young researchers to “Never hold back: I have never held back and there was always a reward.”

During ETH President Joël Mesot’s introduction of Aguzzi, Mesot emphasized the importance of pursuing basic research. Quoting an African proverb, he said, “Patience is a tree whose roots are bitter, but its fruits are very sweet.” The NOMIS Foundation supports basic research in all disciplines.

Janet Currie’s guest lecture at the University of Zurich on Oct. 10, 2019

On Oct. 10, Janet Currie and Antonio Rangel presented their research in guest lectures at the University of Zurich. Currie’s talk, “Child Health as Human Capital,” brought to light the many ways in which she has used big data to assess the public health services and medical treatments used by children in ways that experimental research cannot. Currie’s research has shown how, for example, public health insurance programs for low-income women and children reduce infant mortality. Her work has led to the insight, which she shared with the audience, that, “Nature versus nurture is wrong — it’s always both.”

Antonio Rangel’s guest lecture at the University of Zurich on Oct. 10, 2019

Following Currie’s talk, Rangel presented “The Neuroeconomics of Simple Choice,” describing the how attention is a key driver of how we make hundreds of simple decisions every day, such as what to have for a snack. His research focuses on understanding the neurocomputational basis of simple decisions and is studying the same decision problem across different species.

About the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award

NOMIS Awards are presented to pioneering scientists and scholars who, through their innovative, groundbreaking research, have made a significant contribution to their respective fields. Their bold ideas and unique approaches involve interdisciplinary collaboration and apply a broad range of methods, building bridges across the boundaries of disciplines.




NOMIS Researchers

Professor of neuropathology and director of the Institute of Neuropathology
University of Zurich
Bing Professor of Neuroscience, Behavioral Biology, and Economics, and Head Faculty in Residence
California Institute of Technology
Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs
Princeton University
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