Lucia F. Jacobs is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Helen Wills Institute of Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. The goal of her research is to understand the adaptive significance of cognitive abilities and how the emergence of new cognitive abilities can shape the course of evolution. Examples include species, gender, and developmental differences in spatial cognition, behavioral economic decisions in specialist food-storing species such as squirrels, and the role of olfaction in the evolution of navigation and the brain.
The sense of smell is ancient, universal, and fundamental to spatial cognition across the animal kingdom, with computational properties that may have laid the groundwork for the evolution of the first central nervous systems. Understanding olfaction and space may also be necessary to understand how sexual selection created a specific architecture of gender differences in spatial cognition, both in humans and other species. During this year, Jacobs is writing a book on these questions, specifically how the evolution of cognition is shaped by the constraints of existing sensory systems.
Jacobs received her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University. She has received a NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), a Hellman Fellowship, a Rennie Fund for the Study of Epilepsy award, and a Prytanean Faculty Enrichment Award and is currently supported by an NSF Ideas Lab consortium grant on olfactory navigation.