James F. McDonnell Foundation Grants

Unknown | unknown.ysm@gmail.com February 14, 2011

Yale scientists Laurie Santos, Associate Professor of Psychology, and Thierry Emonet, Assistant Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, have both been named winners of the James F. McDonnell Foundation grants. Santos was awarded a six year grant for her work in understanding human cognition, while Emonet was awarded a four year grant for his work in complex systems.

A monkey used in primate cognition studies. Image courtesy of Santos

“I was honored and really excited,” exclaimed Santos when asked about her recent award. Her research centers on exploring the origins of human economic errors and biases by studying non-human species. Santos describes her growing interest in primate cognition dating back to her sophomore year of college when she worked with a group of rhesus monkeys: “Watching the monkeys on the island made me wonder how they thought about the world, and [it made me wonder] what made us so different from them. Ever since then,” she admits, “I was hooked.”

Santos studying lemurs to explore origins of human biases. Image courtesy of Laurie Santos.

Emonet’s work in complex systems is focused on the distribution of expression levels of proteins in clonal cells and how this may map to behavioral distribution. By studying bacterial chemotaxis in E. coli, he hopes to show the importance of these variable expression levels on biological functions. Eventually, he hopes his work will translate into applications for cancer research. “The key question we are trying to answer is how variability in the behavior of individual clonal cells affects the success of the population, for example in escaping drug treatment,” he explains.

Though different in their specific area of scientific research, both Santos and Emonet have been awarded this distinguished honor, one that will support their continued contribution in improving our understanding of human cognition and complex systems.