Marian Carlson, Simons Foundation

TITLE: Director, Life Sciences

FUNDING AREAS: Life sciences

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

PROFILE: Marian Carlson became director of Life Sciences at the Simons Foundation in May 2013, but she is no stranger to scientific philanthropy. She's been with the Simons Foundation since 2010, after serving as senior scientific officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), another funder of scientific research and STEM activities. Her foundation bio shares: 

Marian Carlson received her A.B. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford University. After postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1981 she joined the faculty at Columbia University, where she is a professor of genetics and development and has also served as senior associate dean and vice dean for research. Her laboratory used genetic analysis in yeast to identify and elucidate conserved mechanisms of signal transduction and transcriptional regulation, notably the SNF1/AMPK protein kinase pathway and the SWI-SNF chromatin remodeling complex. In 2008, she took a leave of absence to serve as a senior scientific officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She joined the Simons Foundation in 2010.

Carlson is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is a past president of the Genetics Society of America, and she received the 2009 Genetics Society of America Medal.

Louis F. Reichardt, Simons Foundation

TITLE: Director, Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative

FUNDING AREAS: autism research

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

PROFILE: A mountain climber, neuroscientist, and inspiration for the 1991 movie K2, Louis Reichardt excels at pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and capability. With seemingly boundless energy and optimism, and an impressive background in brain research, this Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) leader guides the foundation in its mission of understanding and treating autism. His foundation bio shares: 

Louis Reichardt joined the foundation to lead SFARI in 2013. Prior to assuming this post, he was the Jack D. and DeLoris Lange endowed chair in cell physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, where he had directed its renowned neuroscience graduate program since 1988. A Fulbright scholar with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, Reichardt was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and a Howard Hughes investigator for more than 20 years.

The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1985, he is a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was one of three founding editors of the journal Neuron and is a senior editor of the Journal of Cell Biology. He serves on the editorial boards of several other journals as well as the scientific advisory boards of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Spinal Cord Injury and Paralysis Foundation and the Myelin Repair Foundation.

Reichardt’s research has focused on neurotrophins, a family of proteins that play a key role in neuron functioning, and on another family of proteins that promote the adhesion of nerve cells to each other. He has made major contributions to the study of intracellular signaling pathways that mediate the effects of these proteins — including the Wnt pathway, which may play a role in autism spectrum disorders.

Reichardt is also a noted mountaineer who climbed both Mount Everest and K2 by new routes 30 years ago.

Yuri Tschinkel, Simons Foundation

TITLE: Director of Mathematics and the Physical Sciences

FUNDING AREAS: Mathematics, theoretical physics, and theoretical computer science

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

PROFILE: When David Eisenbud left the Simons Foundation for the Mathematical Sciences Research Foundation in Berkeley, California, Simons' leaders knew they had big shoes to fill. They found the right intellectual and administrative skills in Yuri Tschinkel. His foundation bio shares: 

Yuri Tschinkel received his doctorate in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992. From 1992–95 he was Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, and from 1995–96 he was a Leibniz fellow at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

Prior to joining the Simons Foundation in 2012, Tschinkel was a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a visiting associate professor at Princeton University, the Gauss chair of mathematics at the University of Göttingen, and professor and chair of the mathematics department at the Courant Institute, New York University.

He was also a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and held visiting fellowships at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, University of Tokyo, Max Planck Institute in Bonn, Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques in Paris, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, and Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Kyoto University. He was an invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid in 2006.

He serves on the editorial boards of Algebraic GeometryExperimental Mathematics, the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, the European Journal of Mathematics, and the Progress in Mathematics series from Birkhäuser. He is a member of the Scientific Council of the Fondation Sciences Mathématiques de Paris and has served on several other advisory boards.

Tschinkel’s research is at the interface of algebraic geometry and number theory. He studies higher-dimensional algebraic varieties, their hidden symmetries and rational points. He is the author of 100 papers and editor of 15 books. He is a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Gerald Fischbach, Simons Foundation

TITLE: Distinguished Scientist and Fellow

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

PROFILE: Fischbach currently has the title of distinguished scientist and fellow at the Simons Foundation. His foundation bio shares: 

Dr. Fischbach joined the Simons Foundation in 2006 to oversee the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). He then became the foundation’s first chief scientist and fellow and currently holds the title of Distinguished Scientist and Fellow. Formerly dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences at Columbia University, and director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health from 1998-2001, Fischbach received his M.D. degree in 1965 from Cornell University Medical School and interned at the University of Washington Hospital in Seattle. He began his research career at the National Institutes of Health, serving from 1966-1973. He subsequently served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, first as associate professor of pharmacology from 1973-1978 and then as professor until 1981. From 1981-1990, Fischbach was the Edison professor of neurobiology and head of the department of anatomy and neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine. In 1990, he returned to Harvard Medical School where he was the Nathan Marsh Pusey professor of neurobiology and chairman of the neurobiology departments of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital until 1998.

Throughout his career, Fischbach has studied the formation and maintenance of synapses, the contacts between nerve cells and their targets through which information is transferred in the nervous system. He pioneered the use of nerve cell cultures to study the electrophysiology, morphology and biochemistry of developing nerve-muscle and inter-neuronal synapses. His current research is focused on roles that neurotrophic factors play in determination of neural precursor fate, synapse formation and neuronal survival.

Fischbach is a past president of the Society of Neuroscience and serves on several medical and scientific advisory boards. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a former non-resident fellow of the Salk Institute.


Larry Brilliant, Skoll Global Threats Fund

TITLE: Acting Chairman, Skoll Global Threats Fund

FUNDING AREAS: Climate change, water, pandemics, smallholder productivity and food security, sustainable markets, nuclear proliferation, and Middle East conflict

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Having worked for decades in the developing world on health and environmental issues, Brilliant keenly appreciates the impacts that climate change and disease outbreaks have on the world’s poorest.

PROFILE: Larry Brilliant, MD, MPH, was on the scene in 1975, when the last smallpox victim in history was found in a village in Bhola Island, India, and brought to the World Health Organization’s smallpox eradication unit for treatment. Working on behalf of the United Nations as an epidemiologist in that unit, Brilliant saw a girl, Rahima Banu, survive and leave the hospital to grow up, marry, and raise four children. Brilliant cherishes the memory of that village and the triumph that it represents to him. But now he can no longer visit it—the entire village is underwater, a casualty of climate change.

The human capacity to save lives through innovation and, conversely, the human potential to destroy lives through the destruction of ecosystems and resources—both are intensely personal to Brilliant. Today, as acting Chairman of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, he speaks and labors across the globe to advance climate-change mitigation and disease prevention, along with other human development causes.

They all tie together, he often tells his audiences. Climate change exacerbates disease, as well as water shortages, warfare, and other threats to human well-being.

His work at Skoll is something he deemed important enough to leave Google for; before coming to Skoll, Brilliant was Chief Philanthropic Evangelist at the giant, meaning he ran their foundation.

“We need to work not just on primary prevention of global warming, but on the secondary prevention of the consequences of global warming on the poorest and most vulnerable,” he said at the January 2007 Skoll World Forum—two years before becoming an employee of the foundation.

Since his time at Skoll, Brilliant has dispensed considerable sums toward the primary and secondary goals alike. In addition to the $15 million that he granted to the Climate Reality Project, and $750,000 to Rockefeller Philanthropy Services, both for campaigns to raise public awareness about climate change, he has also allocated sizable grants to initiatives that remedy climate-change-related water shortages: $700,000 to Friends of the Earth-Middle East for water initiatives in Israel and the Palestine Authority; and $300,000 to the Inter-American Development Bank for a program to analyze drought patterns in the La Plata Basin, Argentina.

Projects to combat diseases are also top-priority items for Brilliant. He’s given $750,000 to the International Council for the Life Sciences to fund new data networks for identifying and stopping disease outbreaks in Africa and the Middle East, and $440,000 to Global Solutions for Infectious Disease to enhance rapid diagnoses of new disease outbreaks throughout the developing world.  

Medicine’s progress in developing treatments and vaccines for diseases such as smallpox is an exciting long-term trend to Brilliant. He’s said that he personally looks forward to seeing guinea worm and polio be eliminated next.

But also he stresses the importance of early detection and treatment. Speaking at a conference at Oxford University in London in September 2012, he spoke highly of the progress that the world has made in spotting new disease threats: In 1996, it took 167 days to find an epidemic, but only 23 days in 2009. He called for ongoing work to make detection and diagnosis even faster—the sooner we catch an outbreak, he noted, the more lives we can save.  

“It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in epidemiology in my lifetime since the eradication of smallpox,” he said of early detection and diagnostic methods.

Brilliant praises digital disease-detection systems as important tools for this. Organized action by the world’s governments is critically important to him, as well. In the same lecture, he singled out words of approval for Connecting Organizations for Regional Disease Surveillance (CORDS), an international platform through which health departments of many national governments communicate with each other about new health risks and coordinate solutions. CORDS launched in 2009 with startup funds from a number of foundations, including Skoll.  

“You need good governance,” he said. “Until we get cooperation from governments we can’t stop epidemics. We’re never going to stop the first virus from jumping from an animal to a human. So we have to act after that.”

Brilliant first visited India in 1970 after spending a brief time in Nepal, where he studied at a Himalayan monastery. He left with the blessing of his teacher Neem Karoli Baba, who told Brilliant that he was destined to help put an end to smallpox—a destiny that Brilliant lived out over the next 10 years, which he spent on the WHO’s smallpox eradication team.

From the 1980s onwards, he worked in government capacities at the state, federal, and international levels, and founded “Pandafense,” a consortium of experts that assess future risks of influenza pandemics. In addition, he volunteered for tsunami relief in Sri Lanka and was a “first responder” for the CDC’s smallpox bioterrorism-response program. He has also authored two books and dozens of articles on global health policy, infectious diseases, and blindness.  

His educational background, like his career path, reflects an interdisciplinary approach. Dr. Larry Brilliant earned a Master’s in both health planning and economic development from the University of Michigan. He later received a medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine and is board certified in preventative medicine and public health. He served as To learn more about him, read his official bio.


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