"NOMIS is all about enabling outstanding talent to take on high-risk research."
- Georg Heinrich “Heini” Thyssen, NOMIS Founder

2018 NOMIS Distinguished Scientists

NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Awards (NOMIS Awards) are presented to pioneering scientists and scholars who, through their innovative, groundbreaking research, have made a significant contribution to their respective fields and who inspire the world around them. Their bold ideas and unique approaches involve interdisciplinary collaboration and apply a broad range of methods, building bridges across the boundaries of disciplines. NOMIS Awards enable these exceptional, established scientists to continue exploring unconventional and uncharted research paths, thereby opening up new research fields and collaborations.

Play Video

Didier Fassin is a 2018 NOMIS awardee and director of studies in anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS; Paris, France), and has been the James D. Wolfensohn Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, US) since 2009.

Born in France, Fassin received an MD and MPH from the University of Paris, and a PhD in social sciences from EHESS. He founded and was the first director of IRIS, the Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Enjeux Sociaux, as well as professor of sociology at the University Paris North. A former vice president of Doctors Without Borders, he is currently president of the French Medical Committee for Exiles. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Gold Medal in anthropology from the Swedish Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Fassin dedicated his early research to medical anthropology, illuminating important issues about maternal mortality, environmental disorders, social inequalities in health, the changing landscape of global health, and the dramatic expansion of the AIDS epidemic on the African continent. His contribution to the emerging field, which he named “critical moral anthropology,” has opened new domains and questions for research on humanitarianism as well as on punishment. He has recently led a reflexion on the public presence of the social sciences and their role in contemporary societies. Fassin’s project, Crisis: A Global Inquiry Into the Contemporary Moment, is examining the ubiquity, in today’s world, of the notion of crisis, which has been applied to most domains of human life — social, economic, political, moral and cognitive. Analyzing the objectively identifiable and subjectively experienced notion of crisis, he is exploring, through a multi-sited study conducted on five continents and mobilizing different disciplines, the multiplicity of the forms of, and responses to, crises.

Crisis project website

Play Video
Professor and department chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine

Don W. Cleveland is a 2018 NOMIS Awardee and has been professor and department chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) since 2008.

Cleveland grew up in Las Cruces, NM, US. He earned a BS in physics from New Mexico State University, and a PhD in biochemistry from Princeton University (Princeton, US) in 1977. He did postdoctoral work at the University of California at San Francisco before becoming a professor of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1981, moving to UC San Diego in 1995. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the 2018 Breakthrough Prize.

Cleveland has made multiple pioneering discoveries that have led to a greater understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, including the identification of tau, the protein whose aberrant assembly and accumulation is a central component of cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, frontal temporal dementia, and chronic traumatic brain injury. He identified key steps that trigger and accelerate ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and is responsible for discoveries on the etiology of Huntington’s disease. He has developed gene-silencing therapies (“designer DNA drugs”), which can block the activity in the nervous system of any target gene. Through his project, Mechanisms of Gene Silencing and Liquid-Liquid De-mixing in the Nervous System, Cleveland is investigating a previously unknown mechanism for cell entry in the mammalian nervous system, developing gene editing/gene suppression approaches, and identifying the underlying basis for liquid-liquid de-mixing and its contribution to neurodegenerative disease.

Play Video
James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology

Victoria Orphan is a 2018 NOMIS awardee. She is the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech; Pasadena, US).

Born in the US, Orphan earned a BA in aquatic biology in 1994 and a PhD in ecology, evolution and marine biology in 2001 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She did postdoctoral research as a National Research Council Associate at the NASA Ames Research Center in California from 2002 to 2004. She has been on the faculty at Caltech since 2004. Her work on microbially mediated anaerobic oxidation of methane in deep-sea sediment has won her the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (known as the “genius grant”). She is also the recipient of the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator Award, among many others.

Orphan is a pioneer of techniques that combine molecular biology and mass spectrometry into novel methods that enable the capture and analysis of individual microbial cells in their natural environments. She is studying the interaction of microorganisms found in deep-sea sediment with the environment, and has shown that some of these microbes work together in symbiosis to regulate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by consuming methane as their primary source of carbon. Her project, Understanding Virus-Host Dynamics in Ocean Ecosystems, is investigating the impact of marine viruses on the transformation of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in ocean surface waters and sediments, with the ultimate goal of incorporating the data from this unique stable isotope approach into trophic models for ocean ecosystems. This work is advancing the viral-nanoSIMS method for multi-isotope and stable isotope labeling and tracking of host-virus dynamics at the nanometer scale.