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Charles Stevens receives NSF grant under BRAIN Initiative

Charles Stevens

Charles Stevens

Charles Stevens, a professor in the Salk Institute’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, will receive one of 36 Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) from the National Science Foundation to further research on how complex behaviors emerge from the activity of the brain.

The EAGER program, part of President Obama’s $100 million BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, aims to uncover how the brain works and potential ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy and traumatic injury. The $300,000 award, announced on August 18, will support short-term, proof-of-concept projects.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity this grant presents because we are exploring a completely new way of looking at how the brain works,” Stevens says. “And if it’s correct, it will provide a critical piece of the puzzle.”

Stevens will use the funds to investigate the function of the olfactory cortex, hippocampus, cerebellum and basal ganglia, employing a cutting-edge mathematical theory called compressed sensing. He hypothesizes that in these parts of the brain, a critical mass of cells is responsible for representing information. Much like a music or a photo file becomes compressed for storage, neural information is compressed in such a way that only a small portion of the data needs to be readily available for those areas of the brain to function effectively. Stevens speculates that these four regions represent information in similar, but slightly different ways.

At the end of the two-year grant period, he hopes to gain insight into how the brain uses compressed sensing and why. The EAGER Charles Stevens receives NSF grant under BRAIN Initiative

award will also allow Stevens to generate quantitative information, such as the number of cells involved in each area, and other knowledge critical for developing mathematical models of how brain circuits work.