Uncovering the Mysteries of Birdsong

Two Honors Awarded to Constance Scharff, Professor at the Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin

No 201/2019 from Jul 01, 2019

The neuroethologist Constance Scharff, professor at Freie Universität Berlin, has been distinguished with two important academic honors. She was granted membership into the German National Academy of Sciences, known as Leopoldina, and in addition received a two-year appointment as Fellow of the Max Planck School of Cognition. Professor Constance Scharff studies the behavior of songbirds and their neuro-molecular makeup. By examining the scientific basis behind how birds learn to sing and communicate with each other, her research contributes to a better understanding of human language acquisition. Her research group produced findings that show how specific genes in birds and humans play an active role in learning to sing and speak, respectively.

Constance Scharff conducts research and teaches at the Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin. Her work concentrates on experimental neurobiology and animal behavior. She studied biology at the University of Marburg (Germany) and Adelphi University (USA). She later received her Ph.D. from the Rockefeller University in New York in 1991. Scharff completed a postdoctoral program at the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Embryology at the Collège de France in Paris, where she explored the development of sex differences in the brains of hens and roosters. In 1994, she returned to the Rockefeller University as an assistant professor. In 2001, she joined the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin and then accepted a professorship at Freie Universität in 2005.

The Max Planck Schools, which includes the Max Planck School of Cognition, were established with the goal of creating a research network that connects German universities and research institutions. The schools bring together outstanding researchers from different disciplines. They are particularly invested in supporting early career researchers. They also hope to boost Germany’s appeal as a destination for highly talented international students. The Max Planck Society lends its support to the project together with the various participating universities and research institutions around Germany.

The Leopoldina, or German National Academy of Sciences, is one of the oldest scientific academies in the world. Its history goes back centuries to the founding of the Academia Naturae Curiosorum in 1652. With its strong international reputation as a leading learned society, the Leopoldina is dedicated to academic freedom and the promotion of a scientifically enlightened society. The Leopoldina has approximately 1,500 members consisting of top researchers from the German-speaking world as well as members from numerous other countries. Since 2008, it has represented Germany within international circles and, as an independent institution, takes a stance on the scientific principles behind certain political and social issues in public debates.

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