back to news Feb. 25, 2015

Biochemist Named 2015 Sloan Fellow

Marcos Sotomayor, assistant professor, chemistry and biochemistry, has been named a 2015 Sloan Fellow. He is one of a select group of 126 scholars chosen from top institutions in the United States and Canada and is Ohio’s only Sloan Fellow this year.

The two-year, $50,000 Sloan Research Fellowships have been awarded annually to early-career scientists and scholars since 1955 to recognize achievement to-date and potential to make significant contributions going forward. Sloan Fellows may use the funds from the award on anything that helps them to further their research.

Sotomayor’s research group combines x-ray crystallography and molecular dynamics simulations to study the proteins that mediate our senses of hearing and balance.

“We use our inner ear in everyday life, all the time,” Sotomayor said, “not only to hear the world around us, but also to detect motion of our head, to maintain our gaze, and to discern up from down. Could you imagine going around the world without the senses of hearing and balance?”

Sotomayor and his research group — seven undergraduate students, six graduate students and two postdocs — want to learn about how these biological processes, so necessary for our functioning, yet so taken for granted, work at a very basic, fundamental level.

“For instance, we would like to understand the initial molecular steps that underlay our hearing,” he said.

“Simply put, we combine x-ray crystallography, biochemical experiments and molecular dynamics simulations to ‘look’ at the proteins that mediate our senses of hearing and balance.

“The combination of experiments and simulations allows us to have a ‘magnifying glass’ to see these proteins in action at atomic resolution. We also use these tools to look at adhesion proteins involved in the wiring of neurons in our brain or that are implicated in cancer.”

A great advantage of the Sloan Award is that Sloan Fellows may use the funds on anything that helps them to further their research. “It will fund our efforts to understand how hearing happens at the molecular level,” Sotomayor said.

“Winning the Sloan Fellowship is an incredible honor. I feel humbled and very grateful to the Sloan Foundation, Ohio State and Dr. Susan Olesik who nominated me. This recognition is due in no small part to the outstanding training and support I have received throughout the years from my mentors, colleagues, students, friends and family.”

It should be noted that the Sloan Foundation has a great track record of spotting and funding the most promising early-career scientific researchers of their generation. Since 1955, Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win 43 Nobel Prizes, 16 Field Medals, 65 National Medals of Science, 14 John Bates Clark Medals and numerous other distinguished awards. In other words, Sloan Fellows make an impact on their fields.

Sotomayor received his B.Sc. in physics from the University of Chile in 2001 and a PhD in physics, under the guidance of Klaus Schulten, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2007.

After finishing his PhD, Sotomayor joined the laboratories of David P. Corey and Rachelle Gaudet to do experimental work as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University. There he solved the first X-ray crystal structure of a heterophilic cadherin complex formed by two proteins involved in hereditary deafness and blindness. During his postdoctoral tenure, he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow of the Helen Hay Whitney foundation and received a coveted NIH K99 award.  

Sotomayor came to Ohio State in July, 2013, because, he said, “Ohio State has a great and supportive environment for young faculty, with fantastic colleagues, excellent students and superb facilities.” 


Sandi Rutkowski