In Brief

Ana Soto Named to Blaise Pascal Chair

Medical school professor will split time between Paris and Boston for two years as part of prestigious appointment
September 20, 2013

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Ana Soto, a professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology best known for her work with endocrine disrupters and her co-authorship with colleague Carlos Sonnenschein of The Society of Cells (Garland Science, 1988), has been selected by a scientific committee of the French government as one of four Blaise Pascal Chairs in residence at the Ecole Normale Superieure, in Paris, beginning this fall. She will divide her time between Paris and Boston over the next two years, maintaining her laboratory and teaching responsibilities at Tufts throughout the term of her honorary designation.

Since its inception in 1996, the Pascal Chair—named for the eminent 17th-century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher—has been occupied by an array of distinguished world thinkers distributed between the sciences and the humanities. Previous laureates include Gerard Debreu (1983 Nobel Prize in Economics), Ahmed Zewail (1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) and Elizabeth Blackburn (2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine), who occupied the biology chair last year.

Ana SotoWhile in Paris, Soto will be exploring what she terms a “crisis” in biology, namely the lack of an all-encompassing theory capable of directing and analyzing complex biological phenomena. “We are facing an explosion of data,” she wrote the Pascal committee in describing her proposed research project, “but do not yet have the theoretical bases or an adequate language to make sense of them.”

Soto will be working in partnership with Sonnenschein; Giuseppe Longo, a professor at the Ecole Normale Superieure and an adjunct professor within the Department of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology; and Barbara Demenix, a developmental biologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, among others. Soto and her partners will be attempting to develop a “theory of organisms” akin to what Darwin did with evolution but on a more intimate scale, focusing on their life from conception to death. Her general intent is to point biological research in different directions and frame biological findings in fresh ways by creating a new language for the field.

In her role as Pascal Chair, Soto will be hosting seminars of invited guests and giving frequent talks of her own. Ultimately, her two years of research will provide the basis for a book that she is planning to write together with Sonnenschein and the other members of her Paris team.

Bruce Morgan can be reached at bruce.morgan@tufts.edu