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

2024 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.

Full professor

Andrea Ablasser is a 2024 NOMIS Awardee and full professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL; Switzerland). She is leading the Exploring Innate Immune (In)activities project.

Born in Germany, Ablasser studied medicine at the Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich, Germany), earning her MD in 2010. She completed clinical rotations at both Harvard Medical School (Boston, US) and the University of Oxford (UK). After postdoctoral work at the University of Bonn (Germany), she joined EPFL as professor in 2014 and was promoted to full professor in 2021.

Research Focus

Ablasser’s research has advanced our understanding of innate immunity. She played a significant role in deciphering how cells respond to intracellular DNA as a signal of infection via the so-called cGAS-STING pathway — a fundamental mechanism of immunity that evolved in bacteria billions of years ago. Apart from its beneficial role in pathogen defense, recognition of DNA is implicated in the pathogenesis of several inflammatory diseases, including neurodegenerative disease and autoimmunity. She also identified cyclic GMP-AMP (cGAMP) as a second messenger in the immune response. In addition, Ablasser demonstrated that aberrant activation of the cGAS-STING pathway can lead to chronic inflammation and autoimmunity, illuminating the processes that contribute to disease.

Ablasser’s current research focuses on understanding the molecular rules that govern the termination and control of innate immune responses. Using this insight, she is investigating the roles of innate immunity in contexts of disease and exploring novel therapeutic paradigms for cancer immunotherapy.

Awards and Recognition

Among numerous distinctions and awards, Ablasser is a recipient of the William B. Coley Prize, the EMBO Gold Medal, and the National Latsis Prize. In 2020 she was named a Highly Cited Researcher by Clarivate. Ablasser is an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

Director of the Department of Structural Cell Biology

Elena Conti is a 2024 NOMIS Awardee and director of the Department of Structural Cell Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB; Munich, Germany). She also serves as honorary professor for the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy at the Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich, Germany). She is leading the project Visualizing the Messenger: Deciphering the Architecture of Neuronal mRNA Particles at the Atomic Level.

Conti was born in Varese, Italy. She earned a degree in chemistry at the University of Pavia (Italy) and her PhD from the Faculty of Physical Sciences at Imperial College London (UK). She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University (New York, US) before establishing her own research group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg, Germany). Upon joining MPIB in 2007, Conti assumed the role of the institute’s first female director and organized the infrastructure to facilitate structural biology research on campus.

Research Focus

Conti’s research has focused on gaining molecular insights into the macromolecular assemblies that participate in the RNA life cycle to understand the mechanisms that direct their functional role. Through a synergy of biochemistry, structural biology and biophysical approaches, Conti and her group have determined the structures and mechanisms of approximately 100 macromolecular proteins and complexes, ranging in complexity from lower to higher eukaryotes. Among her landmark discoveries are the insights into the assembly of “productive” complexes on mRNAs, such as the exon junction complex and the polyA tail ribonucleoprotein complex, and of “destructive” complexes that act to degrade mRNAs.

Conti’s expansive body of work on the RNA-degrading exosome — in particular, capturing these large machineries in the act of recognizing their substrates — has provided groundbreaking insights into RNA degradation mechanisms. Additionally, Conti has trapped exosomes in supercomplexes with nuclear and cytoplasmic ribosome particles, illuminating how these different machineries in gene expression are not only functionally but also physically coupled. Her research represents a major breakthrough in the field, as a paradigm for the direct coordination of distinct macromolecular machines in gene expression.

Awards and Recognition

In recognition of Conti’s research, she has received three consecutive Advanced Grants from the European Research Council and several prestigious awards, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine, the Gregori Aminoff Prize and the Hans Neurath Prize. Conti is also an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization, the German Academy of Sciences and the Italian Accademia dei Lincei, as well as a Foreign Member of the United Kingdom’s Royal Society.

Whitney Davis is a 2024 NOMIS Awardee and professor of the Graduate School in the History of Art department at the University of California, Berkeley (US), as well as honorary professor of art history at the University of York (UK). He is leading the project Depictured Worlds: The Perceptual Power of Pictures.

A joint citizen of Canada and the US, Davis received his PhD in fine arts from Harvard University (Cambridge, US) in 1985, where he was a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows from 1983 to 1986. He then taught at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, US), where he was John Evans Professor and director of the Humanities Center, before joining UC Berkeley in 2001. Davis was Pardee Professor of History and Theory of Ancient Modern Art at UC Berkeley until 2023. He has held numerous fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and residencies at the Stanford Humanities Center and the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Research Focus

A leading art historian, Davis’ research interests focus on prehistoric and ancient arts, including worldwide rock art, ancient Egyptian and Greco–Roman arts, the Classical tradition in Western art (especially in Britain), and the development of modern art history in relation to archaeology, anthropology and philosophy. Most recently, he has explored analytic models and historical reconstructions of the generation and dissemination of visual culture and of the spatial and temporal resolution at which pictures become visually meaningful.

Davis has lectured widely on his research around the world. In addition to his NOMIS project, he is currently completing a book on space, time and depiction, and is working on “sculptural representation” — how pictures work when they are fully “three-dimensional” — and a project on the relation between aesthetic criticism and philosophical ethics.


Davis has published 10 books, including The Canonical Tradition in Ancient Egyptian Art (Cambridge, 1989), Replications: Archaeology, Art History, Psychoanalysis (Penn State, 1996), A General Theory of Visual Culture (Princeton, 2011), Visuality and Virtuality: Images and Pictures from Prehistory to Perspective (Princeton, 2017), and Visions of Art History (Edinburgh University Press, 2025), as well as over 125 articles, chapters and essays.