May 22, 2008

Salk Researcher Named 2008 Searle Scholar

Salk News

Salk Researcher Named 2008 Searle Scholar

La Jolla, CA – Tatyana Sharpee, an assistant professor in the Salk Institute’s Laboratory for Computational Biology, has been named a 2008 Searle Scholar. She will receive $300,000 over the next three years in support of her research entitled “Computational Principles of Natural Sensory Processing.”

The Searle Scholars Program supports scientists who have already demonstrated innovative research with the potential for making significant contributions to biological research over an extended period of time. A total of 15 of the awards are given each year.

Sharpee, who is interested in how the brain processes information, is an authority on applying information theory to parse the code neurobiological systems use to handle widely varying inputs. Neurobiologists’ perennial quest centers on deciphering how the brain codes and processes information.

In the past, scientists had to rely on simplified objects on a computer screen or random stimuli to garner information on how the brain processes visual information and makes sense of its environment, for example. Sharpee developed a statistical method that allows her to analyze the response of brain cells to natural stimuli, such as a short video clip shot during a stroll on a forest trail. Using this approach, she discovered that brain cells adjust their filtering properties to make the most sense of the incoming information.

Currently, Sharpee is expanding her method to include higher-level brain cells, which are very specific to particular combinations of inputs – such as the features that characterize a person’s face or a bird’s song. At the same time, these cells are also surprisingly flexible and recognize a face whether it is very close or far away.

About Tatyana Sharpee

Sharpee, the newest member of Salk’s distinguished faculty, came to the Institute from the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology at the University of California in San Francisco. Born and raised in Russia, Sharpee received her master’s degree in theoretical physics from the Ukraine National University in Kiev. During her thesis research at Michigan State University, she studied the properties of electrons before she turned her attention to brain cells.

About the Searle Scholars Program

In 1980, members of the Searle family, acting as Consultants to the Trustees of the Trusts established under the wills of Mr. & Mrs. John G. Searle, recommended the development of a program of support for young biomedical scientists. This idea evolved into the Searle Scholars Program, which is funded through grants from the family trusts to The Chicago Community Trust and administered by Kinship Foundation in Northbrook, Illinois.

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