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NSF awards Priebe EAGER for neuroscience work

By SARI AMIEL | September 4, 2014

Professor and mathematician Carey Priebe was one of 36 scholars to receive an Early Concept Grant for Explanatory Research (EAGER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF) this August.

Over the course of two years, Priebe will receive a total of $300,000 to use for his research.

The EAGER awards are designed to encourage research on how the activity of brain circuits affect human behavior and are one of many projects that the NSF has undertaken to further President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative.

The BRAIN initiative aims to promote the development of new technologies that allow researchers to better study the complex dynamics of the brain. By aiding in the understanding of how people’s brains store and use information, such technology could shed light on brain disorders.

Priebe, along with neuroscientists in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, plans to use this grant to investigate, using statistical pattern recognition methods, how the connectivity of neurons in the brains of fruit flies affects the flies’ behavior.

“The human brain is way too complicated to fully understand anytime soon,” Priebe said. “The fruit fly larvae is much simpler, so let’s start there. By examining fruit fly behavior, perhaps our findings and methodologies will prove beneficial to the eventual understanding of the human brain. But this is a good place to start.”

Last spring, Priebe and his colleagues also conducted novel research using fruit flies. They stimulated certain neurons in various genetic lines of fruit flies, recording the flies’ resultant behavior in hour-long videos. Priebe sorted the data generated by this experiment into 29 types of behaviors.

This study, which was published in the journal Science, demonstrated that nerve activation could be connected to behavior, a discovery that might be able to be extended to humans in the future.

Priebe belongs to several major academic organizations, including the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the International Statistical Institute and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He has received the American Statistical Association Distinguished Achievement Award and the McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising, among other honors.

Priebe received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Purdue University, his master’s degree in computer science from San Diego State University and a Ph.D. in information technology from George Mason University. He now holds positions in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Department of Computer Science, the Center for Imaging Science, the Human Language Technology Center of Excellence and the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute.

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