Cornelia Isabella Bargmann was born in 1961 in Virginia and raised in Athens, Georgia, where she attended the University of Georgia. She then went north to study cancer-signalling genes and cloned the oncogene HER2, a key factor in breast cancer, in the laboratory of Robert Weinberg at the Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After receiving her Ph.D. in 1987, Professor Bargmann transferred to the laboratory of H. Robert Horvitz, at MIT, where she became acquainted with the tiny worm C. elegans. Professor Horvitz had already made major contributions to understanding neural development using C. elegans as a simple model organism. For this he shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sydney Brenner and John Sulston "for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death." Professor Bargmann then embarked upon what was to become a lifetime mission to define how genes and the environment influence behavior by dissecting the neural circuitry of C. elegans and the genes, receptors, and signaling molecules involved in such behavior as feeding and responses to odors.
In 1995, California beckoned, and Cornelia Bargmann took up an appointment as assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1998, she was promoted to Professor, and in 1999 was named vice chair of the Department of Anatomy. In 2004, she returned to the east coast to take up the position of head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behaviour at Rockefeller University, New York, where she is now Torsten N. Weasel Professor and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. Rockefeller University president Paul Nurse welcomed her arrival saying, "Cori Bargmann typifies the Rockefeller scientist: she is bold and highly original in her thinking and her approach to studying the brain and other components of the nervous system."
Professor Bargmann has received numerous awards, including the Charles Judson Herrick Award for comparative neurology in 2000, the Dargut and Milena Kemali International Prize for Research in the Field of Basic and Clinical Neurosciences in 2004, and the Richard Lounsbery Award from the US and French National Academies of Sciences in 2009. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the European Molecular Biology Organisation.
Professor Bargmann has trained many students and post-docs in cutting-edge techniques and encouraged them to share her enthusiasm for research. She is as renowned for the quality of her presentations and breadth of knowledge as for her research.