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Karl Palmquist wins 2024 Weintraub Graduate Student Award

Karl Palmquist photo

Karl Palmquist

Karl Palmquist, a former graduate fellow in the Laboratory of Morphogenesis, has been awarded the prestigious Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award. Each year, this honor recognizes outstanding achievement in the biological sciences. Palmquist was recognized for designing innovative new methods for studying the mechanical forces by which cells in developing chicken skin organize themselves.

For Palmquist, these dermal cells are an effective model for studying the emergence of patterns in development, in this instance the regular spacing of follicles that will become feathers. With his collaborators, Palmquist devised an efficient way to observe ex vivo how individual cells exert physical force on one another and on the extracellular matrix, leading to multicellular aggregates which morph into neatly patterned feather follicles, all over the course of a few days. His unique methodology allowed scientists to observe how modifying the viscoelasticity of the extracellular matrix alone systematically altered the emergent follicle pattern. This work is paradigm-changing in establishing the fundamental role of physical forces in developmental morphogenesis, and has been published in the journals Cell and Science.

Palmquist received his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College in 2017 where he became interested in developmental biology. After two years as a research assistant at Sloan Kettering Institute, he focused in on tissue morphology for his graduate research. He joined the David Rockefeller Graduate Program in 2019 in order to study in the Laboratory of Morphogenesis where Amy Shyer and Alan Rodrigues are pioneering the study of emergent properties in embryonic development.

Now a member of the Institute of Advanced Study, Palmquist has shifted his focus to terrestrial ecosystems. He also volunteers as chairperson for the Sierra Club New York City Group, where he advocates for environmental health and justice.

The Weintraub Award honors the late Harold M. Weintraub, a founding member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s basic sciences division who is best known for his work to identify genes tied to cell differentiation.

Palmquist is one of 12 recipients this year. Since the award was launched in 2000, 16 Rockefeller students have received this honor.