On January 22, 2021, University of Maryland Senior Vice President and Provost Mary Ann Rankin announced the establishment of the new Brain and Behavior Institute (BBI) and appointed its founding director, UMD Biology Professor Elizabeth Quinlan.
The BBI will elevate the university’s research and teaching programs in neuroscience and promote innovative, multidisciplinary approaches to solve the most pressing problems of nervous system function and disease. A primary goal of the institute is to strengthen collaborations among neuroscientists, engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, physical scientists, cognitive scientists and humanities scholars.
"Understanding the brain and how it influences behavior is one of the most important and complicated grand challenges of our time, and our success ultimately depends on teamwork,” said Amitabh Varshney, dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS). "By establishing this new institute and appointing a strong leader who has experience with interdisciplinary research, our BBI faculty members will be able to build on their strengths and work together across their diverse fields, lending expertise and support to each other’s efforts, and take our university's high-quality neuroscience research program to the next level."
For the past five years, UMD invested in the Brain and Behavior Initiative to foster interdisciplinary interactions in neuroscience across its College Park campus, and the provost’s announcement of the new institute renews and expands the university’s commitment to neuroscience research and teaching. At the heart of the initiative was a desire for a collaborative research community across the physical and life sciences. The initiative’s seed grant program yielded a 900% return on seed grant investments, through 15 awards from private organizations and government funding, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative, National Institute of Mental Health, National Science Foundation, and Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
The institute will play a vital role in the university’s neuroscience ecosystem, which also includes the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science interdisciplinary graduate program and new undergraduate neuroscience major launched last fall. The BBI will also continue to strengthen interactions with collaborators at other institutions, including the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).
A campus-wide endeavor, the BBI is administratively housed in CMNS and supported financially by the Office of the Provost, UM Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Development, A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, Division of Research, CMNS, A. James Clark School of Engineering, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, School of Public Health, College of Education, and College of Arts and Humanities.
“The BBI will recruit outstanding faculty, tools, and partnerships to expand and elevate interdisciplinary research and training in neuroscience,” Quinlan said. “By strengthening and diversifying interactions between neuroscience and complementary disciplines, the BBI is positioning UMD to be a world leader in advancing innovations in experimental and analytical approaches to understanding the brain and behavior.”
As the institute director, Quinlan will hold the Clark Leadership Chair in Neuroscience, which was endowed with a gift from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation that was matched by the state’s Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative Fund. Quinlan also has a joint appointment in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at UMB.
In her own research program, Quinlan's research has identified changes in the brain that occur with aging and pioneered strategies to promote recovery of functions lost with age. The research in her lab has been continuously funded by the NIH since 2002.
Quinlan served as co-director of the Brain and Behavior Initiative and the MPowering the State initiative on Brain Health and Human Performance from 2018 to 2020. In the latter role, she strengthened collaborative neuroscience research and graduate education between UMD and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. From 2007 to 2016, she directed the physiological systems concentration area of the Biological Sciences Graduate Program.
She joined UMD in 2001 as an assistant professor, following postdoctoral fellowships at Brown University and the University of Virginia. Quinlan earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a B.S. in psychology/biology from the University of Iowa.
“She incorporates a highly interdisciplinary approach to neuroscience in both classroom and lab settings,” Rankin said of Quinlan in her announcement. “I have no doubt that she will advance the rising profile of Maryland neuroscience research and promote the success of the BBI community.”