March 20, 2012
Text: Hubertus Breuer
Samuel Young doesn’t look like someone to be messed with. The man is muscular and built like a tank, and his loud laugh confidently marks out his territory. Sitting under the palm trees on the campus of Florida Atlantic University, eating steak and fries, and hearing how he came from a middle-class neighborhood in New Jersey to head a junior research group at the Max Planck Florida Institute, one gets the impression that his physical presence and sheer strength of will were instrumental in his achievements. After all, nothing was handed to this young scientist on a plate.
For a little over a year now, 37-year-old Samuel (Sam) Young has been a researcher in Jupiter, on the Atlantic coast of Florida. He is researching how neurons communicate with one another. He tackles his work with an innovative arsenal of tools, such as manipulated viruses that insert genes into cells, and sophisticated surgical techniques that allow him to manipulate the gene functions of certain brain cells in mice and rats in order to study their neuronal signal transduction.
The researcher developed these tools himself at such academic centers as Princeton University, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. “What I do is basic research – we want to know what biophysical and molecular mechanisms underlie brain function. Once we understand these basic mechanisms, we will then be able to understand the causes of brain disease,” he says.