Newsletter 1/2010

On the path of human evolution

Timothy George Bromage of New York University College of Dentistry and Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig are the recipients of this year’s Max Planck Research Awards, valued at 750,000 EUR each.

Timothy Bromage

Timothy Bromage has been a professor at New York University College of Dentistry since 2004. One of his research interests is located in Malawi, where he examines the structure of bones and teeth to draw inferences on the living conditions of early humans. Findings on the micro level, which only a few researchers have investigated so far, are proving particularly enlightening. Bromage hopes to use them to discover the answers to difficult questions such as whether bones and teeth belonged to a male or female individual and whether there was more than one annual rainy season at the time. In the course of his research, he discovered a new mechanism which uses the lamellar construction of bones as the basis for drawing conclusions on growth rate and individual life history. The award will help Bromage to develop the investigation of bones and teeth into an even more important tool for research into human evolution. He is currently compiling a database which he will use to compare the metabolism and bone structure of today’s apes and humans. He has been honoured for his academic achievements by the National Science Foundation (2009, 2007), the National Geographic Society (2008) and the National Institute of Health.

Michael Tomasello

Born in Bartow, Florida (USA), psychologist Michael Tomasello is Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. He heads the Department of Comparative and Developmental Psychology. Working at the interface of the humanities and natural sciences he is particularly interested in the acquisition of language and cultural evolution in humans. In numerous empirical studies involving small children and great apes Tomasello is trying to determine the cognitive abilities which differentiate humans from highly-developed great apes, enabling them to create a shared human culture. The researcher is convinced that one of the key elements in this is humankind’s ability to see things through other people’s eyes and to imitate both their behaviour and the intentions associated with it. For his research Tomasello has been awarded numerous prizes including the Fyssen Foundation Prize for Cognitive Science, 2004, the Jean Nicod Prize for Philosophy of Cognitive Science, 2006, the Oswald Külpe Prize, University of Würzburg, 2009, and the Hegel Prize, City of Stuttgart, 2009. He has cooperated with a number of Humboldt Research Fellows in his role as an academic host in the Humboldt Foundation’s network, including the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award Winner, Brian Hare.

The Max Planck Research Award, the international research award granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It promotes German and foreign academics working in disciplines that have particular scope for future development. The award is granted to one researcher working in Germany and one researcher working abroad who already have an international reputation and who are expected to continue performing frontier research in international collaborations. The award is announced annually on an alternating basis in a specific area of the natural and engineering sciences, the life sciences, and the humanities.

The award ceremony will take place during the Annual Meeting of the Max Planck Society on 17 June in Hanover.