The Simons Foundation has named Ilya Nemenman one of its Simons 2021 researchers, one of the most prestigious awards for a theoretical researcher. The professor of physics and biology at Emory College of Arts and Sciences has helped to help Emory become a world leader in research in theoretical approaches and modeling of living systems.
The recognition of Nemenman, a pioneer in the development of theories to model and make quantitatively accurate predictions of biological information processing systems, comes with $ 100,000 per year for five years, with a renewal potential of five years. The award allows Nemenman to add post-doctoral researchers and students to Emory’s highly collaborative Living Systems Theory and Modeling (TMLS) initiative.
TMLS brings together researchers from multiple departments at Emory College, Emory University School of Medicine, and the Coulter Biomedical Engineering Department of Georgia Tech and Emory, with the goal of cultivating research to understand biology with historically reserved precision. in the physical sciences.
“I am very proud and happy to have been selected, but I honestly think it is more important that Emory was able to develop this group of excellent people at the interface between physics and biology which is almost second to none. elsewhere in the country, “says Nemenman.
Originally trained in cosmology, Nemenman helped make Emory a world leader in theoretical biology and biophysics with his innovative idea that the laws of the universe could have equivalent rules in systems. complex biologicals. He has since identified many ways of distilling cosmic order from the apparent randomness of biological networks.
Some of Nemenman’s work uses methods developed by Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in October 2021 for his revolutionary theoretical methods for understanding climate change.
Nemenman laid the groundwork for TMLS over a decade ago, helping to attract to Emory the “core” of quantitative physicists and biologists who could develop new theoretical approaches, working closely with experimental collaborators, Stefan explains. Boettcher, chairman and professor of Emory’s physics department. .
Since the launch of TMLS in 2017, Nemenman has published results with these experimental collaborators on topics as diverse as the distribution of sensory errors in songbird vocal learning, the dynamics of a perceiving and escaping pain worm, and the collective cellular detection underlying the development of the mammary gland.
Such efforts to understand the dynamics of biological systems – from single cells to entire ecologies – have the potential to make inroads in drug development, medical diagnostics, and more.
“Ilya has a huge scale in what he does,” says Boettcher. “It is incredible that it is possible for him to use the obscure technology of the venerable field of statistical physics in a way applicable to the life sciences. He is incredibly imaginative and creative.
Nemenman, who also chaired the division of biological physics at the American Physical Society and is a member of the society, hopes the Simons Investigator designation will help encourage more researchers to think creatively in exploring the general area of systems. complex biological interactions.
Already, the pandemic has generated more interest in the interdisciplinary field. The visibility of TMLS has also increased over the past year with a series of webinars and virtual workshops with global participation, including one examining how mathematical models could help bring COVID-19 under control.
Nemenman’s expertise, along with his tremendous commitment to mentoring, helped bring these events to life. They also highlighted Emory’s leadership in exploring scientific questions with real impact, says Deborah W. Bruner, senior vice president of research at Emory.
Dr. Nemenman’s timely research and insistence on interdisciplinary collaboration is what fuels great innovation, “said Bruner.” I am delighted that the Simons Foundation recognizes its creative and promising fellowship and the work done at Emory for it. ‘raise more. ”
Nemenman plans to use the Simons funding to attract interested scientists to Emory as postdoctoral fellows in his research group.
Her goal is for their work to help them become colleagues at other research universities, much like former post-doctoral fellow Audrey Sederberg – who co-developed a theoretical model of neural activity in the brain of the mouse before joining the faculty of the University of Minnesota – did so.
Another former post-doctoral fellow, Andrew Mugler, recently won the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award and is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I can talk to an amazing group of researchers here, to shape these ideas and make this work,” Nemenman said. “You never work alone, so in many ways this award is just the latest of the amazing things this community we’ve built at Emory has accomplished.”