Jim studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Harvey Mudd College, receiving a BS in 1981. He had the privilege of spending one of his undergraduate years at Oxford University. After graduating from college, Jim went to Harvard Medical School, where he got his MD. While there, he enjoyed spending some of his time at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Harvard gave him a master’s degree for that. After leaving Boston, he continued his training in San Francisco, where he did a residency at UCSF.
Jim was subsequently on the faculty at UCSF, where he studied how anesthetics work, and took care of patients. In following ideas that he developed about how anesthetics work, he did a sabbatical studying yeast genetics at Stanford. Jim says, “At the end of all that, I knew how anesthetics worked; my educational background fit investigating that topic well. One of the reasons I knew that I knew how anesthetics worked is because new drugs came from that research. Surprising ideas about the fundamental mechanisms of how they work also came from that work. I’ve moved to HMRI to continue exploring those mechanisms.” Dr. Sonner’s current research examines the interaction of small molecules with membranes.