In 1997, Nikolaus received his PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Cologne. After working in Joel Lebowitz’s lab at Rutgers University on statistical mechanics, he joined Eric Siggia’s group at Rockefeller University where, in 1999, his attention turned to biological problems. He began work on transcriptional gene regulation in E. coli and later on in metazoans. In 2003 he became an Assistant Professor of Biology and Mathematics in the Biology Department at New York University, co-associated with the Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences, where his work on small RNAs – in particular microRNAs – began. In 2006 he became a full professor of Systems Biology at the Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, associated with the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Medical University). He conceived and directs the Berlin Institute for Systems Biology.
Nikolaus is an Editor for Developmental Biology and serves on the editorial boards of BMC Systems Biology and Bioinformatics. In 2008, he received the IUBMB medal for outstanding contributions to Biochemistry and the anniversary prize of the German Society for Biochemistry, awarded by FEBS. Nikolaus is also ‘Global Distinguished Professor of Biology’ at New York University. In January 2010, Nikolaus received the Science Award of the Governing Mayor of Berlin.