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NSF awards $2.2 million to advance brain research

Neuroscience researchers have integral role in two multi-institution programs exploring fundamental questions around attention, cognition, learning

Drs. Jacqueline Snow, Gideon Caplovitz and Marian Berryhill are part of two multi-institution research projects described by EPSCoR as holding the promise of transforming daily lives.

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1/26/2017 | By: Jane Tors |

Five neuroscience-research consortiums addressing fundamental questions about the brain were recently awarded funding through the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or EPSCoR process. Two of the five consortiums include University of Nevada, Reno neuroscience researchers in the Department of Psychology who are now at work on the projects described by the head of EPSCoR as holding the promise of transforming daily lives.

Associate Professor of Psychology Marian Berryhill and Assistant Professor of Psychology Jacqueline Snow are co-principal investigators on a project probing cognition and learning. Led by the University of Delaware and also involving researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the project explores the complex relationship between existing knowledge stored in the brain and new information obtained through sensory perception.

“We know through cognitive psychology that associations and context are used to interpret our environment,” Berryhill said. “What isn’t known is how this is neurally substantiated.”

Associate Professor of Psychology Gideon Caplovitz is co-principal investigator on a project to develop a greater understanding of attention which is critical to countless daily tasks and relates to worker productivity, driver safety and military and security vigilance. Berryhill is also part of the project which is led by Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and involves neuroscience researchers from Montana State University and Brown University in Rhode Island. Caplovitz and Berryhill have a fundamental role since the project will involve use of the University’s high density electroencephalogram (EEG) which detects electrical activity in the brain and the University’s functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) equipment – based at and operated in partnership with Renown Regional Medical Center – which can picture the brain in action.

Each of the two, multi-institution projects was awarded $6 million over four years, and the sub-awards to the University of Nevada, Reno are $1.75 million for the project focused on cognition and perception and $470,000 for the project focused on attention.

“Brain research is a national research priority. It is very notable to have University of Nevada, Reno researchers at the forefront of this grand challenge and integrally involved with two of the five projects selected for EPSCoR funding,” Mridul Gautam, vice president for Research & Innovation, said. “This was a competitive process and reflects the high caliber of neuroscience research being conducted at this University.”

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While the EPSCoR awards support the advancement of research, they also build research capacity and capabilities for the research institutions. Award recipients must invest in developing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce, particularly of early-career researchers. Berryhill, Caplovitz and Snow look forward to further formulating plans to foster career development and mentoring for female and under-represented minority graduates students, post-docs and junior faculty.

“It’s fabulous to be able to say we have funding in place for graduate students and laboratory development,” Berryhill said. “The more stable the funding, the more talented students we are able to attract.”

“Drs. Berryhill, Caplovitz and Snow are making important contributions to science, and also to the University’s research enterprise and to the capabilities of our students who will go on to contribute to society,” Debra Moddelmog, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said.

For Snow, the new NSF EPSCoR award adds to two other recent federal NIH grants, each of which supports innovative new research in her Real-World Cognition Laboratory.

"The EPSCoR grant is critical, not only for building infrastructure to support cutting-edge neuroscience research here at UNR, but by strengthening collaborations between ourselves and researchers at the partner institutions to increase collectively our knowledge and expertise,” Snow said. “This is a really exciting opportunity for expansion.”

Caplovitz calls it a ripple effect, noting the EPSCoR awards build on previous funding awarded to the University through the National Institutes of Health to establish a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Integrative Neuroscience.

“It expands the scope of our research, just as the COBRE did,” he said.

“We can’t say more emphatically what a true honor it is to be part of projects like this,” Berryhill said. “We worked hard on the proposal, with a fantastic team, and we now get to work with people who are equally passionate.”

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