Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, Bren Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering and affiliated faculty member with Caltech's Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience, has been awarded the 2022 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award. Established in 2016, the award is presented to "pioneering scientists and scholars who, through their innovative, groundbreaking research, have made a significant contribution to their respective fields and who inspire the world around them," according to the NOMIS Foundation.
Zernicka-Goetz's research addresses fundamental questions about how life begins, such as: What drives a fertilized egg to divide and grow until it becomes 40 trillion cells, and how do these cells know how to make a person? To address these questions, she has developed methods for tracking living embryos to determine how stem cells are first created, establish their fates, and work together to shape the body. She also pioneered methods to grow embryos beyond implantation, techniques that won the "People's Choice Scientific Breakthrough of the Year" in 2016 in Science magazine. Her team used these methods to create the first complete embryo models from stem cells that develop like natural embryos.
In 2021, the team determined the molecular signals involved in how an embryo becomes asymmetrical and polarized and how the embryo forms its head-to-tail body axis.
Zernicka-Goetz received her PhD from Warsaw University and joined the Caltech faculty in 2019. Prior to Caltech, she was professor of mammalian development and stem cell biology at the University of Cambridge, England. She is a fellow of the British Academy of Medical Science, the Polish Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of an NIH Director's Pioneer Award and the 2022 Edwin G. Conklin Medal from the Society for Developmental Biology.