Mijo Simunovic

Mijo Simunovic, Category Winner 2017 – Cell and Molecular Biology


Mijo Simunovic sought higher education in the United States and in France, earning his PhD in theoretical chemistry from the University of Chicago, and his PhD in experimental physics from the University of Paris. In his scientific work, he pursues complex biological problems that are fundamentally driven by physics. Currently, he is at The Rockefeller University where, as a Junior Fellow of the Simons Society, he uses stem cells to build experimental models of the human embryo, aimed at elucidating the earliest events in human development. Simunovic is passionate about teaching, having served as a teaching consultant at the University of Chicago and instructed undergraduate biophysics courses in Chicago and New York.


Biology and physics rendezvous at the membrane

How cells absorb materials from their environment has, for decades, fascinated biologists and physicists alike. At the heart of this phenomenon is endocytosis, a process that enables signaling among cells, intake of nutrients from the environment, immune response, and also infection. Simunovic took part in discovering a new pathway by which signaling proteins and certain pathogens enter cells. To understand how it works, he constructed artificial cell membranes and manipulated their behavior at the nanoscopic scale with lasers and microscopes. He found an unexpected relationship between proteins that tailor membrane shape and those that generate forces inside the cell. Their interplay is an exquisite example of how cells use simple physical principles to carry out complex functions.