NSF News

NSF awards 12 grants totaling $17 million to advance understanding of brain

The National Science Foundation has awarded $17 million to support 12 projects under its Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems program. The NCS program supports innovative, boundary-crossing efforts to push forward the frontiers of brain science. This cross-directorate program is one element of NSF’s broader effort directed at Understanding the Brain, a multi-year activity that includes NSF’s participation in the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. NSF envisions a connected portfolio of transformative, integrative projects that create synergistic links across investigators and communities, yielding novel ways of tackling the challenges of understanding the brain in action and in context.

This year’s 12 funded projects will advance foundational research in four focus areas: neuroengineering and brain-inspired concepts and designs; individuality and variation; cognitive and neural processes in realistic, complex environments; and data-intensive neuroscience and cognitive science.

This year’s awards also include three “Frontiers” proposals, which require larger teams of investigators to engage in sustained, synergistic efforts.

“The complexities of brain and behavior pose deep, fundamental questions, requiring multiple perspectives to find answers,” said Kurt Thoroughman, director of NSF's Cognitive Neuroscience program. “The NCS program makes possible innovative integration across disciplines to support boundary–crossing projects that – at their best – map out new research frontiers. NCS awards are bold and risky, transcending the insight and foresight typical of disciplinary research efforts.”

The NCS program is a collaboration across four NSF directorates: Computer and Information Science and Engineering; Education and Human Resources; Engineering; and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences.


The award titles, principal investigators and sponsor institutions are listed below.

Frontiers: Protecting the Aging Brain: Self-Organizing Networks and Multi-Scale Dynamics under Energy Constraints Lilianne Mujica-Parodi, SUNY at Stony Brook

Frontiers: Elucidating the relationship between motor cortex neural firing rates and dextrous finger movement EMG for use in brain computer interfaces Cynthia Chestek, University of Michigan

Frontiers: Shedding light on brain circuits mediating navigation of the odor plume in a natural environment Diego Restrepo, University of Colorado Denver; Juliet Gopinath, University of Colorado Boulder; and Ioannis Kymissis, Columbia University

Integrative Approaches to Study the Role of Early Life Sleep Disruption in Brain Development and Autistic Behaviors Hung Cao, University of California, Irvine

Multimodal sampling of neural ensembles: A high-density opto-electro-chemical neural interface for simultaneous electrical recording and optical imaging of cell-types Maysamreza Chamanzar, Carnegie-Mellon University and Xinyan Tracy Cui, University of Pittsburgh

Understanding how prior knowledge shapes visual perception in the individual brain Biyu He, New York University Medical Center

Biology and Function of Prosody: Integrative approach to individual differences Cyrille Magne, Middle Tennessee State University and Reyna Gordon, Vanderbilt University

Developing dyadic fMRI methodology to quantify and model human brain-to-brain interactions Ray Lee, Columbia University

Developing engineering solutions to investigate microbiome-to-neuron communication Reza Ghodssi, University of Maryland, College Park

Analysis, prediction, and control of synchronized neural activity Fabio Pasqualetti, University of California, Riverside and Danielle Bassett, University of Pennsylvania

The evolutionary origins of leadership in chimpanzees: from individual minds to collective action Alexandra Rosati, University of Michigan Ann Arbor; Zarin Machanda, Tufts University; and Melissa Thompson, University of New Mexico

State Representations in Multi-purpose and Multi-region Neural Network Models of Cognition Kanaka Rajan, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai