Emory Report

August 23, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 1

Emory and area schools use record-breaking NSF grant to create neuroscience center

The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year grant of nearly $20 million to Emory, Georgia State, Georgia Tech and the Atlanta University Center to become one of five new Science and Technology Centers nationwide. The NSF award will establish a Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and was the only award given for study in the life sciences.

The NSF award (which actually is a 10-year grant awarded in two five-year increments) is the largest per-year grant ever received by the University, according to Sylvia Wrobel, assistant vice president for Health Sciences communications.

"The award is an honor and an exciting challenge for Atlanta," said Yerkes Director Tom Insel, who also will direct the new center. "It is an initiative unlike any other, coming at a particularly opportune time. Recent developments linking biology with behavior make this a crucial time for enormous advances in neuroscience. This award will enable us to transmit the excitement of these discoveries to a new generation of investigators."

"This grant recognizes and endorses the extraordinary collaboration between these Atlanta area schools, whose resources and synergy do so much to make this a great city," said President Bill Chace. "We are proud that so many components of Emory are part of this new center headed by Dr. Insel."

The new Science and Technology Centers are required to feature three interrelated components: education, research and technology transfer. Though Insel cited several factors in winning the award--the existing relationship between the four universities; the new biotech center being developed by Emory and Georgia Tech; the presence of Clark Atlanta University and Morris Brown, Morehouse and Spelman colleges in the plan--he deflected much of the credit to Pat Marsteller and Dennis Liotta.

Liotta, vice president for research, provided the crucial link to the biotech center. And Marsteller, director of the Hughes Science program, is central to the educational component of the neuroscience center, which will furnish invaluable learning opportunities for Georgia faculty and students at all levels of the educational pipeline. As home to the highest density of minority colleges in the country, Atlanta is well positioned to address the national shortage of minorities in science. Morehouse Medical School already has a well-regarded Neuroscience Institute, and other AU Center schools are developing neuroscience programs for undergraduates. The Science and Technology Center will vastly expand the research arena for the brightest students.

"As a former director of the National Science Foundation, I am especially pleased that the agency and the scientific community, through the peer review process, supports this enterprise," said Morehouse President Walter Massey.

The new center will work with the Atlanta Public Schools providing professional development opportunities for teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade. This includes research visits and internships in laboratories, new curricular materials, and workshops in inquiry-based and hypothesis-driven science. Instructional materials will be distributed to local schools by LearnLink and the center's ScienceNET site <www.sciencenet.emory.edu/CBN>, and also through hands-on lab experiences on Georgia State's BioBus, a 30-foot, traveling state-of-the-art laboratory that supplements the regular science curriculum in Georgia elementary schools.

"I know this will sound corny, but it really does take a village to raise the new kind of scientist we have in mind--collaborative, not competitive," Marsteller said. "We hope to open up pathways for people to be trained in all ends of the spectrum, and we also hope to bring more diversity to science."

For research, the Center for Behavorial Neuroscience will comprise several "collaboratories" that bring together faculty, fellows, graduate students and undergraduates from all the member institutions to tackle issues such as social affect and social behavior. "We're hoping [these collaborations] cross institutional boundaries, and we've chosen the faculty so they'll do that," Marsteller said.

In technology transfer, Insel said the grant will create several new research "core" units, five of which will be concentrated at Emory. The cores, he said, will center around production and development of new technology rather than the disciplines from which they sprang. Scientists from different disciplines and universities will collaborate in such fields as imaging, molecular, cellular, systems and behavioral research. Georgia Tech will host a computational core lab.

The Georgia Research Alliance, with its mandate to foster collaboration between research universities and the state, has committed matching funds to the neuroscience center. Support from the city and the state has also been strong.

"The state is an enthusiastic partner in the strategy to increase Georgia's standing in science and technology," said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor. Georgia Research Alliance Vice President Mike Cassidy will serve on the new center's board.

--Kate Egan and Michael Terrazas

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