NEST Foundation

New Europe School for Theoretical Biology and Ecology
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Theoretical biology is a relatively new, vigorously growing field of research and understanding. Its role in biology is similar to that of theoretical (mathematical) approaches in physics.

On the one side, we have the observations, experiments and field studies, and on the other side we have theoretical concepts, mathematical models and deductive structures.

Mathematical models can describe biological phenomena in a way that would otherwise be impossible. For example, one cannot normally follow the fate of populations of biological objects (molecules, cells, individual organisms, etc.) for millions of generations without an adequate mathematical model.

According to John von Neumann's definition, models are mathematical structures that, with verbal interpretation, describe the biological phenomena. They are a formalised way of passing from the concrete to the abstract. Theoretical biology has been growing since its golden age in the 1920s and 1930s, when Lotka, Volterra, Kostitzin and Kolmogorov began to formalise ecology and Wright, Fisher and Haldane laid the foundations of population genetics to study evolution through models.

It must be emphasised that theoretical biology differs from theoretical physics in that
#1 it puts emphasis on a rational treatment of diversity and complexity;
#2 it tries to combine holistic ideas with the modelling approach;
#3 the number of relevant facts to take into account is very large.

Its main role can be summarised by the words of the Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar: no new principle will declare itself from beneath a heap of facts. (A recent good example is the need for interpretation of the results to be expected from the Human Genome Project.) It is timely to distil from the avalanche of observations whatever general principles can be discerned.

The Foundation

NEST (New Europe School for Theoretical Biology and Ecology) is the first privately endowed foundation for the advancement of theoretical biology in Europe. Prof. Eörs Szathmáry using the New Europe Prize (awarded to him in 1996 for higher education and research by the network of the Institutes for Advanced Study from Stanford) as seed money to set up the foundation. NEST's main goal is to support young talents in the field in Eastern Europe, especially Hungary (Hungary has demonstrably the most promising stock of theoretical biologists in Eastern Europe). The development in the field contributes to the basic understanding of life phenomena and the intellectual development of the region.

Juhász-Nagy Pál Prize

The NEST foundation together with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences established the Juhász Nagy Pál Prize in 2005 to honour one great achievement in the field of theoretical biology or for life long activity in this field. The prize is given annually based on personal nominations and evaluation by a group called Díjbizottság that consists of three persons from the NEST foundation and two persons from the Section of Biological Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences of Hungary.


László Papp and Béla Darvas (2000): Contributions To A Manual Of Palaearctic Diptera 1-3., App., Science Herald Budapest.

Izsák János (2001): Bevezetés a biológiai diverzitás mérésének módszertanába. Scientia, Budapest

Podani János (2005): Földindulás a szárazföldi növények osztályozásában, Scientia-Eötvös, Budapest

Jordán Ferenc ed. (2006): A DBS-től a globális felmelegedésig, Scientia-Eötvös Budapest

Természet- és Környezetvédő Tanárok Egyesülete - ELTE Növényrendszertani és Ökológiai Tanszék (2006): Per Naturam - megemlékezés Juhász-Nagy Pál professzor 70. születésnapjáról.

Izsák János, Szeidl László (2009): Fajabundancia-eloszlási modellek, Pars, Nagykovácsi


Conference organized and co-organized

Fifth International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology (ICSEB V.)

1996. August 17-24., Congress Center Budapest Hosted by: The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungarian Biological Society Supported by Boehringer Ingelheim Founds Favoured by: Dept. Genetics, Eötvös University, Dept. Syst. Botany and Ecology, Eötvös University, Collegium Budapest / Institute for Advanced Study, Hungarian Natural History Museum

New frontiers in theoretical evolutionary biology

Organized under the European Science Foundation Theoretical Biology of Adaptation project 2001. September 5-11. Tihany

A hazai evolúcióbiológia aktuális frontvonalai

2002. May 9.,Workshop at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences