Sonja Vernes to receive 2022 Blavatnik Award

19 January 2022
Sonja Vernes
Sonja Vernes, research group leader of the Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, will be receiving a Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists in the UK, through her affiliation with the University of St Andrews. Vernes will receive £30,000 thanks to her research on vocal learning bats, providing insight into the evolution of speech and language.

Bats share a rare trait with humans: the ability to learn novel sounds. By studying vocal learning in bats, Sonja Vernes and her group hope to shed light on the biological basis of human spoken language and language disorders. Vernes demonstrated that bats can learn to change their social calls and explores the genetic and neural mechanisms underlying this complex trait to understand how speech and language may have evolved, and what can go wrong in childhood disorders of language. Vernes also leads the multinational research project the Bat1K consortium, which aims to sequence the genomes of all living bat species.

“I am so pleased to be named a 2022 Honouree of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the United Kingdom and to have my work on bat vocal learning recognised by this prestigious prize. I am grateful to the members of my lab and my colleagues that made this possible, and excited for the boost this prize will give to our future research”, says Vernes.

Public symposium

Sonja Vernes is one of only three UK award winners in the life sciences, and one of six Finalists across Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry. Each finalist receives £30,000 in unrestricted funds. For the first time, more women than men were among the honourees. On 1st of March, the candidates will present their research at a free public symposium in London, entitled Discover, Design, and Diagnose: 9 Young Scientists Transforming Our World.

The prestigious Blavatnik Awards are awarded to exceptional early-career scientists and engineers from the fields of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry. There are separate Blavitnik Awards for the US, UK and Israel, awarding a total of US$13.6 million in funds in 2022. The prize is administered by the New York Academy of Sciences and supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

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