Emory Report
July 5, 2005
Volume 57, Number 34


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July 5, 2005
Neuroscientist wins Emory's third national presidential award

BY Beverly Clark

Donna Maney, assistant professor of psychology, is the recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the nation’s highest honor for professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers, the White House announced June 13.

Joining 57 other researchers, Maney accepted her award in a ceremony led by John Marburger III, science adviser to President George W. Bush and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She is the third consecutive Emory scholar to receive the annual award, joining Eric Weeks, associate professor of physics, and Joe Henrich, assistant professor of anthropology, as honorees.

Maney researches the neural circuitry underlying communication behavior—work that intersects many different fields including psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. In particular, she is interested in how animals perceive, process and respond appropriately to social signals. The research combines the study of free-living songbirds in their natural environments with that of wild-caught captive animals under controlled conditions.

“We are delighted that Dr. Maney’s creative and important research is being recognized in this way,” said psychology chair Elaine Walker, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. “She is certainly among the most promising young scientists in the country who are exploring the complex interactions between sensory experience and mechanisms of gene expression. She is very deserving of this award, and we are honored to have her on our faculty.”

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, established in 1996, honor the most promising new researchers in the nation within their fields. Participating agencies award these beginning scientists and engineers up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions.

Last year Maney, who came to Emory in 2002, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty and Career Development Award of more than $600,000, which will fund her songbird research for the next five years. These highly competitive awards are given to researchers who not only show tremendous promise in their fields but also develop innovative techniques to incorporate into their teaching.

“Under the NSF grant, my research team is exploring the distribution of neuropeptides, their receptors, and socially induced brain activity in groups of birds that naturally differ in their social behavior,” Maney said. “We’re also seeking to characterize a system of brain regions specialized to process social information. In the process, we’re developing tools to study social neuroscience in animals’ natural habitats.”

As teacher, Maney encourages students to get hands-on experience in her lab. As part of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, an NSF Science and Technology Center, Maney’s laboratory is accessible to undergraduates as well as post-baccalaureate students and public high school teachers participating in a variety of local education programs.

An experienced writing instructor, Maney also emphasizes writing skills in her teaching at Emory. She has developed an undergraduate writing course in neuroscience and led a faculty workshop on bringing writing into the undergraduate science curriculum.