Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Brain Initiative Will Impact Graduate Education and Research

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Brain Initiative Will Impact Graduate Education and Research

   Last month, President Obama announced an exciting challenge for the academic, research, medical, and scientific communities: the BRAIN Initiative. BRAIN is an acronym that stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, and the initiative challenges the scientific community to develop a map of the human brain. The overarching goals of the initiative is to develop, research, and invent new technologies that will enable us to better understand how we think, process and store information, perceive, communicate, remember, and make decisions, and to help understand, and develop treatments  and preventions for, debilitating brain diseases and mental health issues. Over one hundred million dollars is earmarked for grants to fund research in this endeavor for over the next ten years. President Obama said, “As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away. We can study particles smaller than an atom. But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”

    This past weekend, the National Science Foundation (NSF) gathered neuroscientists together from around the nation and globe, in Arlington, Virginia, to begin brainstorming and planning specific goals for this exciting project. Still at an early stage, the leaders of the group are just attempting to get organized and outline specific goals, including being technologically ready for the "data deluge" they expect to get from this mobilization of research.
   The initiative has received both criticism and support from the research communities, politicians and political pundits, and journalists/ commentators from around the world. The New York Times came out in support of the project; click for the original New York Times editorial., and this article on suggested that the initiative would be a scientific triumph for President Obama's administration if it is executed properly and efficiently. Huffington Post writer Daniel Burrus outlines the reasons that this project is so important for all of us, in economic, medical, and social terms.

    There are some critics, to be sure: some say there is not enough money involved to produce anything valuable, and that the project is too timid, vague, or hazy. But, thinking about the Human Genome Project generated a huge return on its investment ($140 return on every $1 invested), I can't see this as anything but a positive, exciting move. Daniel Burrus is one thousand percent correct in his illuminating  advocacy for the project.
  And, from a graduate student perspective, this is amazing news. New projects in neuroscience, neurobiology, medicine, neurochemistry, computer science, technology development, nanoscience, speech, language, and communication will all be launched -- and funded -- as a result of this initiative. What an amazing time to be in or entering one of these fields, and what a rewarding and significant global project to devote your graduate studies to!

   Let me know what your thoughts are about this exciting initiative. What would you study? How does mapping the human brain affect your area, and what do you imagine we might gain from BRAIN?
Have a great day, GSASers and Grad.Life Readers!!
--- Liza

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