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Stanford neurobiologist shares insights from working in Nobel-winning lab

Yesterday's Nobel Prize announcement delighted Stanford neurobiologist Lisa Giocomo, PhD -  and not because she had taken home the coveted honor. Giocomo came to Stanford last year from Norway, where she worked first as a postdoc and later as a colleague of Edvard and May-Britt Moser (both PhDs), two of the three 2014 Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine.

Giocomo (to the right of the Mosers in the photo here) didn't get a chance to congratulate her former mentors yesterday due to the time difference. But she said Edvard was shocked when he was greeted by reporters and colleagues bearing flowers as he stepped off a plane yesterday: "I don't think they were expecting it at all," Giocomo said.

The discovery that shot the Mosers to the top of the science world (along with London-based researcher John O'Keefe, PhD) involves the inner maps that humans and other animals use to navigate. The Mosers discovered grid cells, a type of nerve cell in the brain's entorhinal cortex that fires when an animal moves to certain points (for example, when a rat stands on the holes of a giant Chinese checker board).

The Mosers lead a large lab group at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, one that Giocomo was drawn to so she could pursue her investigation of computational models of single-cell biophysics. Yet despite the size of a lab, Giocomo said the group felt like a family.

"They’re very good scientists, but they’re also really nice people and very gracious mentors," Giocomo said. "They were always very good at making time for everyone in the lab… It's also very collaborative."

And unlike many partnerships, the Mosers truly work together, Giocomo said. "The lab is really run as a single entity."

Giocomo, a member of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, said she considered staying to work with the Mosers, but ultimately chose to join the Stanford faculty. And when asked about her own Nobel aspirations, Giocomo laughed. "I'm just focusing on building a lab," she said. "I have many other short-term goals."

Previously: Say Cheese: A photo shoot with Stanford Medicine's seven Nobel laureates, Stanford researcher Roger Kornberg discusses drive and creativity in Nobel Prize Talks podcast  and Stanford winners Michael Levitt and Thomas Südhof celebrate Nobel Week

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