The Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) has chosen postdoc Luis Hernandez-Nunez of the Engert Lab as a recipient of its prestigious Career Awards at the Scientific Interface (CASI) grant. The CASI program supports the latter stages of postdoctoral training and the transition into becoming a primary investigator.
“I am very grateful for the support of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund,” Hernandez-Nunez says. “Their Career Award at the Scientific Interface will allow my future lab to use control theory and engineering approaches to study the way in which neural circuits communicate the heart and other internal organs with the brain and vice versa.”
Hernandez-Nunez is one of just nine CASI recipients chosen this year. Each honoree will receive $500,000 over the next five years as they wrap up their postdocs and launch their own labs.
“I can think of no one who would be more deserving in receiving this prestigious award,” says MCB faculty Florian Engert. “Luis has been absolutely instrumental in connecting my team with the group of Mark Fishman at SCRB and he thereby established the field of mind-body interaction, with a particular focus on neuro-cardiology. This enormously fruitful collaboration has led to several large consortium awards, and quite significant sums of money have been raised Engert adds, “Lastly, what makes me most happy about Luis’ BWF award, is that he is one of the strongest forces that I know of, for the promotion of young scientists with diverse backgrounds in STEM related fields. He has established a framework and infrastructure in my lab in the last couple of years that allows for the seamless integration of undergraduate students from various backgrounds into his research. The size of his student team is now approaching double digits, and all of them unconditionally love the experience, they contribute meaningfully to the research and many go on, inspired by the experience, to careers in STEM related fields.”
Hernandez-Nunez’s graduate school advisor Aravi Samuel of the Department of Physics is happy to see his mentee receive the CASI Fellowship. “The BWF has played a critical role in mediating the transition of scientific talent from physics and engineering to careers in biology,” Samuel says. “For the most talented trainees to break new ground, folks like Luis, what they most need is time and encouragement. They can’t just jump in and start collecting data, they need to rethink how to study the system and ask questions that simply have never been asked before…This is what Luis did in my lab, bring his expertise in engineering and control theory to re-think the thermotactic algorithms that Drosophila use to achieve a set-point. Luis’s conceptual framework has proved to be exactly what we need to make progress, both in the completion of his own experimental work as a PhD student and the ongoing work of his successors. Luis is a credit to the BWF program, and I’m grateful for their support in launching the career of yet another talented young scientist.”
Hernandez-Nunez is enthusiastic about receiving the CASI grant. “Because for most of my training, I did research in quantitative departments, before graduate school at Yale in the Emonet Lab, and during graduate school at Harvard in Aravi Samuel’s lab, I witnessed through the years how the few most talented postdocs in our field got this award,” Hernandez-Nunez adds. “I am deeply honored that I have now joined the family of BWF-CASI awardees and it motivates me to continue looking for/finding creative ways in which quantitative approaches help uncover key aspects of how living systems work.”
Hernandez-Nunez’s research is in an emerging discipline of systems neurocardiology. He says, “I am grateful and fortunate that Florian has been so generous with me since the beginning: I get to run a small team of undergrads, master’s students, and postbacs that work with me in the research area that I am trying to pioneer. My experience mentoring students and running a team will help make my transition to faculty smoother.”
Hernandez-Nunez adds, “I am grateful to my labmates, mentees, my postdoc mentors Florian Engert and Mark Fishman, our close collaborator Misha Ahrens at Janelia, my PhD mentor Aravi Samuel, as well as HMS professors Rachel Wilson and Caroline Palavicino-Maggio whose guidance helps me tremendously. Without their support, friendship, and advice this would not have been possible. I am also grateful for the Life Sciences Research Foundation and Additional Ventures, who believed in my ideas before I had any proof that this could work and funded my postdoc; and to the Warren Alpert Foundation which named me a distinguished scholar and thanks to their funding and support I am able to have full-time scientists in my team. This recognition is also for my team, without their effort, this would not have been possible.”
Three of Hernandez-Nunez’s mentees–Neuroscience undergraduate student Mariam Markabani, Laurens Djikstra master’s student at the University of Delft, and Keyue Shi of The University of Science and Technology of China–recently defended their degrees. Hernandez-Nunez also gave a shout out to other members of his team, including Areni Markarian (Neuroscience ‘22), Joana Avrami (Neuroscience ‘23), and Maanasa Mendu (Neuroscience ‘24). “It takes a village to reach these milestones and I am fortunate to have great mentors and amazing mentees here at Harvard MCB and the Center for Brain Science,” Hernandez-Nunez says.
Congratulations to Dr. Hernandez-Nunez!