Laurels for the Life Sciences

This spring, Brandeis biologists racked up impressive accolades for basic research targeting human health and well-being.

In June, Avital Rodal was named a 2013 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. The $240,000 early-career award will support her neuroscience research for the next four years. Rodal, an assistant professor of biology, studies how neurons set up elaborate structures tailored to send and receive electrical signals over distances and through complex networks.

Eve Marder ’69, who has dedicated her career to understanding the nervous system’s basic functions, won the Gruber Foundation’s $500,000 neuroscience prize. The Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience studies a relatively simple network of some 30 large neurons found in the gut of lobsters and crabs — a small yet elegant window into humans’ unfathomably rich nervous system, home to billions of neurons and trillions of interconnections.

The decades-long research collaboration of biology professors Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall, now emeritus, continues to win international kudos. In late May, Run Run Shaw, a Hong Kong philanthropist and billionaire, awarded the $1 million Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine to Rosbash, Hall and their Rockefeller University colleague, Michael Young. The three discovered the molecular mechanisms governing circadian rhythms, the built-in biological clock that governs functions such as sleep and wakefulness, metabolism and hormone levels, in organisms as simple as fruit flies and as complex as humans.

Gina Turrigiano, a professor of biology who studies how neurons and circuits change during learning and development, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Brandeis now counts 12 faculty who are members of the nation’s most prestigious scientific society, including Marder — who is Turrigiano’s mentor — and Rosbash and Hall. “It’s awfully good company to join,” says Turrigiano.