Michael Yartsev Named 2022 Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award Winner

November 1, 2022
Bionengineering professor Michael Yartsev is encircled by light trails simulating bat flight paths in his FAB (Fully Automated Bat) Flight Room at UC Berkeley’s Li Ka Shing Center in Berkeley, Calif. on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (Photo by Adam Lau/Berkeley Engineering)

Innovative research into the naturalistic behavior of bats led to Dr. Michael Yartsev being named the 2022 Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award winner by Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI). Dr. Yartsev is an Associate Professor and Principal Investigator in the Department of Bioengineering and Hellen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. Yartsev and his lab study the neural mechanisms of complex spatial, social, and acoustic functions in bats, an ideal model organism due to its highly sophisticated natural behaviors.

“We were thrilled to select Dr. Yartsev, whose scientific contributions to the field over his relatively short time as an independent investigator have been remarkable,” says Dr. David Fitzpatrick, MPFI CEO and Scientific Director.  “It is truly inspiring to see the bold and creative ways in which Dr. Yartsev gained novel insights into the neural mechanisms of natural behaviors. This is curiosity-driven discovery at its best, the kind of exceptional research that makes Dr Yartsev most deserving of the Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award.”

The Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award is given biennially to recognize a young neuroscience investigator for significant contributions to the scientific community through collaboration, creativity, and curiosity-driven research. In addition to recognizing exceptional achievements, it also serves to support research, inspire young scientists, promote cooperation, and acknowledge the outstanding legacy that Dr. Peter Gruss built throughout his honorable career at the Max Planck Society. Gruss was responsible for establishing the Max Planck Florida Institute, which is the first Max Planck Institute in North America.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected for this year’s Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award. As a young scientist working on a rather unusual mammalian model system compared to mainstream neuroscience, it is highly motivating to see our work recognized by this prestigious award,” said Yartsev. “I am grateful to my supportive colleagues and the selection committee for recognizing the broad impact of our past, present, and, importantly, future research. It further motivates me to continue pursuing unexplored, challenging, and creative research directions that leverage the beauty of natural behaviors. I believe this will help us to better understand general neural computations.”

Dr. Yartsev completed his B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering at the Ben-Gurion University in 2007 and received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Weizmann Institute in the laboratory of Nachum Ulanovsky. He was subsequently a C.V. Starr fellow in neuroscience in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, where he completed a post-doc in the laboratory of Carlos Brody.

“Michael is one of the most deserving young independent investigators I can think of for this prize,” said Nobel Laureate Edvard Moser, who nominated Yartsev for the award. “Few have left more impact on his field during such a short time than him. He is exceptionally talented, enthusiastic, creative, careful, and effective – and already among the world´s leaders in the neuroscience of behavior.”

As PGYIA winner, Yartsev receives a $5,000 prize and will deliver a keynote address at MPFI’s 2023 Sunposium Conference, taking place March 6-8, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Yartsev is the third recipient of this award. Previous winners include Dr. Gloria Choi from MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research (2019) and Dr. Vivian Gradinaru from Caltech (2017).

The award is sponsored by Ms. Raquel Rodriguez, a lawyer and the Chair of the Florida Offices of the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. Ms. Rodriguez is a long-time supporter of MPFI’s work and the life science industry and supports the award in honor of Dr. Peter Gruss’s legacy.