Newswise — STONY BROOK, N.Y., August 25, 2014The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Stony Brook University’s Scott Laughlin, PhD, an Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER). The EAGER awards are part of the foundation’s support of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a multi-agency research effort that seeks to accelerate the development of new neurotechnologies that promise to help researchers answer fundamental questions about how the brain works.

In March of this year, NSF asked researchers to submit ideas for early-stage, potentially ground-breaking new approaches to reveal how neuronal processes in the brain lead to complex behaviors in any organism. NSF reviewed the summaries and invited full proposals from applicants whose ideas best aligned with the outlined research topics. Dr. Laughlin, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook, was among 36 recipients of these EAGER awards.

“The selection of Dr. Scott Laughlin for this competitive National Science Foundation award demonstrates the critically important and innovative focus of his research,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD. “This grant will enable Dr. Laughlin and the University to contribute new scientific knowledge to this revolutionary initiative that will transform our understanding of the brain’s functioning.”

Each EAGER award is for $300,000 over a two-year period, and award recipients will apply this funding to develop a range of conceptual and physical tools, from real-time whole brain imaging, to new theories of neural networks, to next-generation optogenetics. Dr. Laughlin will apply the grant funds to an investigation of the use of synthetic molecules for mapping the connections between neurons in the brain.

“The human brain has roughly 90 billion neurons, which allow us to think, move, and respond to stimuli. Strategies for visualizing and controlling neural activity abound, but there are very few methods that enable direct imaging of neural circuit connectivity,” said Dr. Laughlin. “This award will be applied to cutting-edge research that bridges the fields of chemistry and neuroscience to enable a novel strategy that will facilitate the direct visualization of neural circuit connectivity in order to better understand the brain.”

Dr. Laughlin received his BS in Biochemistry and Philosophy from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2002, and his PhD in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. Shortly thereafter, he began exploring his interests in neuroscience with postdoctoral work in the lab of John Ngai, PhD, at UC Berkeley. In the fall of 2013, Scott began his lab in the Chemistry Department at Stony Brook.

"Dr. Laughlin's receipt of this competitive grant can lead to potentially ground-breaking new approaches to reveal how neuronal processes in the brain lead to complex behaviors in organisms and transformative insights into how we relate to and interact with each other and our ever-changing environment," said Dennis N. Assanis, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. These EAGER awards cap off numerous NSF-supported, BRAIN-related activities in fiscal year 2014.###