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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rosbash named Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience

Published: October 5, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

The university named Professor Michael Rosbash the Patricia and Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience last week. Rosbash is widely esteemed by his peers and colleagues and has received countless awards in his field throughout his professional career.

Not only does Rosbash teach classes in the Neuroscience Department at Brandeis, but his research has also led him to become one of the top scientists in the world today.

“Michael and his colleagues discovered the genetic basis for biological rhythms fundamental to life because they control when we sleep and are wakeful, how we absorb food and expend energy and how well we resist disease. His work shows how basic science can both explain and improve the human experience,” Provost Steve Goldstein said.

Dean of Arts and Sciences, Susan Birren notes Rosbash’s research as groundbreaking, for “it was the first demonstration of a molecular mechanism for behavior. It provides insight into human health and disease, with important implications for understanding everything from jet lag to resistance to disease.”

While Brandeis maintains the accessibility and community-feel of a small liberal arts college, its administration often touts that it has the research capability of a larger university.
Patricia and Peter Gruber founded the Gruber Foundation in 1993. Peter Gruber had been successful in the asset management business and was referred to as the “pioneering investor in the emerging market.”

“We were left with the luxurious question of, ‘What would you do if you had extra money?” Patricia Gruber explained. It was a difficult question for the Grubers, but as they reflected upon Peter Gruber’s remarkable childhood story they ultimately decided to give individuals intellectual prizes with their money.

Peter Gruber and his Jewish family fled Hungary for India just before Hitler invaded during World War II. Upon reaching India, the family settled in Calcutta just as the Japanese began to bomb the area. Peter’s parents, who were uniform manufacturers for the British army, sent him and his two brothers to the Himalayas for three distinct reasons: it was far away, it was safe, and it had an excellent schooling system.

The boys had no choice but to adapt to a new and unfamiliar life. There were “a lot of changes, a lot of diversity and I think it made him grow up fast,” Patricia Gruber reflects.
Because of her husband’s unusual story, she said, he learned to appreciate individuals and individual accomplishment. And, because his teachers had been Jesuits and Irish Christian brothers rather than the more familiar rabbis, he gained an earnest appreciation for “diversity, [for] different languages, [and for] the preciousness of life.”

The Grubers created their foundation to award individual efforts through academic prizes. And the couple was faced with another integral question: in which disciplines should they award prizes?

They decided first to award prizes in cosmology, genetics and neuroscience, for “science really contributes so much to the well being of the world and to human well being—[there’s] potential to cure disease, potential for understanding,” Patricia Gruber explains. “And without a civil society, [we] can’t have much happen,” she continues. Thus, justice was added to the list of disciplines.

Finally, they chose to focus on women’s rights, for “if women can’t have a seat at the table, the world is not a peaceful place,” Patricia Gruber maintains.

In 2011, the Grubers decided that choosing a university partner would be a wise decision for the future of the foundation. Yale University became the new spearhead of the prize-giving foundation. Patricia Gruber’s key presence remains, however, for she continues to help shape the program.

In addition to the prize-giving foundation, the Grubers also control a small grant-making foundation. It was through this foundation that the Patricia and Peter Gruber Chair in Neuroscience was endowed at Brandeis University. Brandeis then selected Professor Rosbash as the first recipient of the Chair.

Patricia and Peter met President Fred Lawrence while he was the dean of the George Washington University Law School. Patricia Gruber explains that they were quite impressed with Lawrence, they came to know him personally, and once they “found out more about the sciences at Brandeis [they] thought that it would be terrific to establish an endowed chair in neuroscience.”

When the Grubers discovered that Professor Rosbash had been selected as Chair, they were quite pleased, for Rosbash is a previous neuroscience prize winner, and they are familiar with his research.

It is because of professors like Rosbash that Brandeis is able to excite students about subjects outside of the classroom. When a professor is having a scientific breakthrough, it’s pretty tough not to get enriched in the subject’s material.

“There is a tiny, superlative group of investigators like Michael Rosbash who make discoveries that open our eyes to new vistas and create new disciplines,” Goldstein said.

Rosbash was also recently named as one of the seven recipients of the 2012 Canada Gairdner Awards for his research on biological clocks. Since 1959, of the 308 recipients of the Gairdner Award, 78 have continued on to win a Nobel Prize.