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Angelika Amon

Angelika Amon was one of the first IMP master and PhD students, joining Kim Nasmyth's lab in 1989. Her stay at the IMP was followed by exceptionally fruitful years at the MIT. 

Everyone who worked at the IMP at the same time as Angelika Amon will remember her. A Student in Kim Nasmyth’s lab, Angelika was certainly a strong personality. Discussing her work with Kim - often in the cafeteria - she was passionate and self-assured. And not to be missed.

But let Angelika recall her past: “I have fond memories of my time at the IMP. I came just a few months after Kim Nasmyth had joined the IMP to do my Master’s Thesis - and subsequently my PhD - in Kim’s lab. I knew nothing about science, had very little lab experience and was truly a science rookey. Kim and the people in his lab took me under their wing and taught me how to do science the English way: relentless, truthfully and (I am citing Kim) ‘always do the experiment that has the potential to make you the unhappiest.’

The IMP was not just a great place to learn how to do science, but also a place where we had a lot of fun…

Angelika Amon

The IMP was not just a great place to learn how to do science, but also a place where we had a lot of fun – Parties at Joe’s Disco (organized by Giulio Superti-Furga), skiing with the Nasmyth lab, drinking with the Bird lab and the dancing at the Christmas parties.”

Angelika’s work at the IMP focussed on cell division in yeast, in particular on the role of the mitotic kinase. That’s when her love affair with Sacchharomyces cerevisiae started.

“I was in love with yeast because it grows much faster and is therefore more practical, if you want to study what is happening within a cell rather than how entire organisms develop... But the main reason I love yeast is that the only rate-limiting factor in your research is your brain - technically almost anything is possible in yeast," says Angelika in an interview with Philipp Steger, formerly at the Austrian Embassy in Washington.

A high-flying career in Boston

After graduating in 1993, Angelika Amon worked at the University of Vienna for another year before taking off to the US. She spent two postdoctoral years with Ruth Lehmann at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedial Research. In 1996 she was named a Whitehead Fellow. Looking back, Angelika calls this fellowship “the best thing that happened in her life”, a crucial experience for her entire career.

The freedom and resources she enjoyed plus the fact that she had a co-worker allowed her to pursue her career while starting a family. Today, Angelika is the mother of two daughters and thinks that programs such as these fellow positions are crucial in promoting women in science.

Angelika did not use the full five years of the fellowship. In 1999, she accepted a tenure-track position as assistant professor of biology at the Center for Cancer Research. Only a year later, the HHMI chose her as one of the new HHMI investigators. Today, Angelika is professor of Biology at the MIT and among the most renowned microbiologists in the US. A long list of awards attests to her outstanding accomplishments, among them the Alan T. Waterman Award and the Eli Lilly and Company Research Award.

Amon's colleague at MIT's Center for Cancer Research, Andreas Hochwagen, calls her an "outstanding scientist" and explains why: "She has a knack for pinpointing interesting questions and problems that can be addressed with the available scientific tools. Oftentimes, she very quickly identifies the killer experiments that will unambiguously answer a question.”

Angelika runs a lab with 16 researchers who study the mechanisms that control the transitions from one cell-cycle stage to the next using budding yeast as a model system. The focus is on how the exit from mitosis is regulated and integrated with other cell cycle events and on how the meiotic cell cycle is established. Furthermore, the group is interested in the consequences of aneuploidy on cell growth and proliferation in yeast and mammals.

Does Angelika want to return to Austria? She certainly loves the country and has her family here, but life and work in Cambridge are just too good to be left behind. Although, as Angelika calls it “it’s a golden cage.”

By Heidemarie Hurtl; first published in 2007