Thomas Pollard

Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology and Professor of Cell Biology and of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry

Tom Pollard, B.A. Pomona College, M.D. Harvard University, faculty member at Yale since  2001, after a career at the Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the presidency of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies: Your fundamental research on the understanding of cell dynamics has led to important breakthroughs that have shed light on many biological processes, from how organs develop, to how cancer cells metastasize.

Over time, your lab’s work has combined microscopy, biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology, and mathematical modeling to discover and characterize proteins that produce forces for cells to move.   Your extensive body of work explains how assembly of branched actin filaments produces forces that drive cellular movements and interactions of myosin motors and actin filaments divide cells in two during cytokinesis. Notably, you have employed quantitative methods to give added rigor to these analyses, paving the way for a detailed understanding of the molecular underpinnings of cellular behavior. This fundamental science has advanced human understanding of the smallest unit of the building block of life, the structural, functional, and biological unit of all known organisms.

As prominent as you have been as a scientist, it might be said that you have been every bit as prominent as an administrator, educator, and science policy advocate. You served as president of the American Society of Cell Biology and the Biophysical Society  and chaired the Commission on Life Sciences at the National Research Council. At Yale, besides chairing your department, you served as dean of the Graduate School from 2010 to 2014. One of your first comments after being appointed to that position was “I really want to hang on to my undergraduate cell bio course. I’m really proud of how well it works” – a fitting comment for someone who has co-authored one of the leading cell biology textbooks, now in its third edition, with plans for a fourth edition on your desk.

You are a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, and are much beribboned, having been honored with the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Medical Research Award from Brandeis University, the Howard T. Ricketts Award from the University of Chicago, the E.B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology, and the Canada Gairdner International Award for Biomedical Research Perhaps you are most proud, however, not of these awards but of the extensive number of graduate student and postdoctoral trainees who have benefited from your exemplary guidance (including five on the Yale faculty!) and, without question, your two children – both of them computational biologists.

Runner and hiker and appreciator of the outdoors, your colleagues and friends are nevertheless most likely to see you and your wife at School of Music events where, whatever your busy days bring, you are both faithful attenders of concerts and chamber music and appreciators of the brilliance of Yale’s musical scene. For bringing your distinguished research to Yale after many years elsewhere, and for immersing yourself in this community and making significant contributions to it to add to your many other distinguished contributions elsewhere, your colleagues and friends salute and thank you.