February 21, 2008
La Jolla, CA – Tatyana Sharpee, an assistant professor in the Laboratory for Computational Biology, has been named an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. She will receive a grant of $50,000 for a two-year period.
The Sloan Research Fellowships support the work of exceptional young researchers early in their academic careers, and often at pivotal stages in their work. Once chosen, Sloan Research Fellows are free to pursue whatever lines of inquiry are of most interest to them, and they are permitted to employ Fellowship funds in a wide variety of ways to further their research aims.
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.
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.
The Sloan Research Fellowships have been awarded since 1955, initially in only three scientific fields: Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics. Since then, 35 Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in their fields; and 14 have received the Fields Medal, the top honor in Mathematics. Although Sloan Research Fellowships in Economics began in 1983, Sloan Fellows have since accounted for eight of 13 winners of the John Bates Clark Medal, generally considered the top honor for young economists.
For a complete list of this year’s winners visit www.sloan.org/programs/scitech_fellowships.shtml.
For additional information visit www.sloan.org.
Internationally renowned for its groundbreaking basic research in the biological sciences, the Salk Institute was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jonas Salk, five years after he developed the first safe and effective vaccine against polio. The Institute’s 59 faculty members are scientific leaders in the fields of molecular biology, neurosciences and plant biology.