Rachel Wilson earned an A.B. in chemistry summa cum laude from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco. She did postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology before joining the faculty in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard University in 2004, where she is now the Martin Family Professor of Basic Research in the Field of Neurobiology. Her research contributions have been recognized by a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award. In 2014 she was named the first Blavatnik Foundation National Laureate in Life Sciences. She served as Associate Director of the Harvard Ph.D. Program in Neuroscience for six years, and her mentorship of students and postdocs was recently recognized by a Young Mentor Award from Harvard Medical School.
The broad goals of Dr. Wilson’s research are (1) to understand how sensory information is processed by neural circuits, and (2) to describe the cellular, synaptic, and circuit mechanisms underlying these neural computations.
Her laboratory uses Drosophila as a model organism because the fly brain contains only ~100,000 neurons, many individual neurons are uniquely identifiable, and many neural connections are highly stereotyped.
Moreover, this organism allows new ideas to be tested rapidly, thereby creating a fertile ground for innovation and creativity. Because some of the fundamental problems of early sensory processing are likely to be common to all species, many lessons learned from simple brains should generalize to complex brains. Indeed, some key findings from Dr. Wilson’s lab have turned out to predict subsequent discoveries in analogous vertebrate sensory circuits.