Plenary Speakers
Peter Walter

Peter Walter

Dept of Biochemistry & Biophysics


Peter Walter is a Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF and an HHMI Investigator. He graduated from the Free University of Berlin in 1976, and received his Masters of Science in Organic Chemistry from Vanderbilt University in 1977. In 1981 he obtained his PhD in Biochemistry at The Rockefeller University. In 1983, Peter joined the faculty of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco, and served as Department Chair from 2001 until 2008. Peter’s awards include the Eli Lilly Award, the Passano Award, the Wiley Prize, the Stein & Moore Award, the Gairdner Award, the E.B. Wilson Medal, the Otto Warburg Medal, the Jung Prize, the 2012 Ehrlich and Darmstaedter Prize, the 2014 Shaw Prize, the 2014 Lasker Award, the 2015 Vilcek Prize and the 2018 Breakthrough Prize. Walter’s lab seeks a molecular understanding of how cells control the quality of their proteins and organelles during homeostasis and stress. They are identifying the machinery and mechanisms that ensure proper protein synthesis, folding, and targeting, as well as the pathways that allow organelles to communicate and regulate their abundance. In addition they aim to understand how the rewiring of these processes leads to, or prevents the progression of disease.


Ruth Ley

Director of the Department of Microbiome Science

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology

Tübingen, Germany

Ley’s research promises to unlock the therapeutic potential of the human gut microbiome through molecular understanding of its members and their interactions. She brings a unique set of lenses to such problems, incorporating evolutionary biology and microbial ecology into studies of medical relevance. Ley studied integrative biology at UC Berkeley and received a PhD in microbial ecology from CU Boulder. She was awarded a NASA Fellowship to work on extreme microbes with Norm Pace, then joined Jeffrey Gordon’s laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine, where she pioneered work linking the human gut microbiome to disease. Ley established her independent research program at Cornell University in 2008, and in 2016 became the Director of the Department of Microbiome Science at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. Ley’s awards include a Fellowship in Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the ISME Young Investigator Award, and the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine. She is a Member of EMBO and a Fellow of the American Society for Microbiology.

Martin A. Novak

Martin A. Nowak

Professor, Biology and Mathematics, Harvard University

Director, Program for Evolutionary Dynamics

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

Martin A. Nowak is Professor of Mathematics and of Biology at Harvard University and Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. He works on the mathematical description of evolutionary processes, including evolution of cooperation and human language, as well as dynamics of virus infections and human cancer. An Austrian by birth, he studied biochemistry and mathematics at the University of Vienna where he received his Ph.D. sub auspiciis praesidentis. He went to the University of Oxford as an Erwin Schrödinger Scholar and worked there with Robert May, with whom he co-authored numerous articles and his first book, “Virus Dynamics” (2000). Nowak became head of the mathematical biology group in 1995 and Professor of Mathematical Biology in 1997. A year later, he moved to Princeton to establish the first program of theoretical biology at the Institute for Advanced Study. He moved to Harvard University in 2003. Nowak is a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the recipient of the Weldon Memorial Prize, the David Starr Jordan Prize, and the Akira Okubo Prize. He is author of over 475 papers and four books. “Evolutionary Dynamics” (2006) provides an overview of the laws that govern the evolution of living systems. “SuperCooperators” (2011) argues that cooperation is the third fundamental principle of evolution.

Erin M. Schuman

Erin M. Schuman

Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research – Department of Synaptic Plasticity

Frankfurt, Germany

Erin Schuman was born in 1963 in California. After completing her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Southern California in 1985, Erin Schuman received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Princeton University in 1990. She conducted postdoctoral studies in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. She was appointed to the Biology Faculty at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1993 and stayed there until 2009. In 2009, she moved to Frankfurt, Germany to found the Department of Synaptic Plasticity in Max Planck Institute for Brain Research. Schuman’s lab studies the cell biology of synaptic function, with a particular emphasis on protein synthesis and degradation.

In 1997 Erin Schuman was appointed Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). She received several awards and grants, including the Pew Scholars Award, the Beckman Young Investigator Award, and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship. She has given many named lectures including the Gordon Research Conference Cruikshank Lecture, the Hodgkin Huxley Katz Prize Lecture by the Physiological Society (UK) and the Forbes Lectures at the Marine Biological Labs. She is an elected EMBO member and a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. In 2018 she was awarded the Society for Neuroscience’s Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award.


Gilles Laurent

Gilles Laurent

Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research – Department of Neural Systems and Coding

Frankfurt, Germany

Gilles Laurent, a French citizen, was born in 1960 in Casablanca, Morocco. After a PhD in Neuroethology from the University Paul Sabatier of Toulouse (France) and a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 1985, he worked as a postdoc and a Locke Research Fellow of the Royal Society at the University of Cambridge/UK (1987-1990). In 1990, he joined the faculty of the Biology Division at the California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA, USA), where he became Lawrence A. Hanson Professor of Biology in the field of “Computation and Neural Systems” in 2002. In 2008, Gilles Laurent was appointed Director of the Department of Neural Systems and Coding at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt am Main (Germany). Gilles Laurent’s research focuses on neural systems computation and dynamics, and experimental work on a number of animal model systems, such as insects, fish, reptiles and cephalopods.


Don Ingber headshot 500X470

Donald Ingber

Founding Director, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

Donald Ingber, MD, PhD is the Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He has authored more than 500 publications and 125 patents, founded 5 startups, and received numerous honors, including membership in the U.S National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Inventors, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His ‘Organs-on-Chips’ technology was selected as a Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2016 by the World Economic Forum.