Professor Laurent Keller, winner of the Marcel Benoist Prize 2015
Professor Laurent Keller, Director of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne, is one of the most renowned researchers in Switzerland in the field of evolutionary biology. He also enjoys a solid reputation at international level. Ants are the subject of his research. His ground-breaking experiments have greatly helped to improve our understanding of natural selection and the social behaviour of animal communities. The findings from this research enable us to draw parallels with human cohabitation such as how people cope with stress or aging processes. For example, he has shown how robots programmed to behave like ants can be more efficiently used when grouped in a swarm.
From his theoretical work and primarily also his experimental research, he has helped drive subsequent development of this research field. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Professor Laurent Keller is an outstanding mentor: numerous researchers from his team have been able to benefit from his expertise and have themselves gone on to pursue their own academic careers. Laurent Keller also understands very well how to make his research more palatable to the public at large. Among other things, he has authored several popular science books and articles.
Born in 1961 in the Canton of Aargau, Laurent Keller, studied biology at the University of Lausanne, where he obtained his PhD with distinction in 1989. He did several research fellowships, including one at the University of Toulouse (France) and another at the University of Harvard (USA). He also conducted research at the Museum of Zoology in Lausanne. He started receiving grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) already in the early 1990s. In 1994, he worked as an outside lecturer and two years later was given a full professorship in evolutionary ecology by the University of Lausanne. In 1998, he became Director of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne. He has received numerous awards over the course of his successful career. In the year 2000, he received the national Latsis Prize and in 2010 secured an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). Professor Laurent Keller holds seats in many scientific bodies in Switzerland and abroad. Among these, he currently serves as President of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology, a position that he will hold for the period 2015-2017.
Award ceremony at the University of Lausanne
The Marcel Benoist Prize 2015 was officially presented at the University of Lausanne on 26 October in front of an audience of nearly 400 people. Among the guests were Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, who is the chairman of the Marcel Benoist Foundation, current and former members of the foundation board including former Federal Councillor Ruth Dreifuss, representatives from politics, science and the economy, and the laureate’s family and many friends.
In his opening speech, the principal of the University of Lausanne, Professor Dominique Arlettaz, applauded the laureate’s inquisitiveness and passion. “Laurent Keller shows creativity in his research – but also in the way he trains young scientists. He has a real talent for passing on his knowledge and contributes significantly to the University of Lausanne’s development.” Following Professor Alettaz’ speech, Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann presented the award. In his address, he commended Professor Laurent Keller for his valuable research, which has led to a better understanding of natural selection and the social behaviour of animal communities. Professor Serge Aron, Head of the Evolutionary Biology & Ecology Unit of the Université libre de Bruxelles held the laudatory speech. The ceremony was concluded by Laurent Keller himself with an enthralling presentation of the fascinating objects of his research.
The Marcel Benoist Foundation would like to sincerely thank the University of Lausanne. Not only was the award ceremony both festive and rich in variety – the University of Lausanne also seized the opportunity presented by this event to inform the general public of Professor Laurent Keller’s outstanding achievements and of Switzerland’s role as a centre for research.
Laurent Keller’s professorship:
Video of the award ceremony: