Brain and Behavior Initiative brings together researchers from across the University of Maryland

Unlocking the workings of the human brain and how the brain influences behavior is a 21st century scientific frontier. Advances have galvanized brain research to a point where researchers are on the cusp of major scientific and technological advances, and the United States, Japan and European nations all have major “brain initiatives.”

The University of Maryland already has key engineering, neuroscience and computer science strengths related to brain research. In early 2014, researchers across campus began to meet around an interdisciplinary idea to help Maryland take advantage of this rapidly growing, promising field. ISR and the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science program were leaders in this movement, organizing a workshop attended by more than 150 Maryland faculty, writing a comprehensive report, and working with University of Maryland Provost Mary Ann Rankin on research, organizational and financial possibilities.

In fall 2015, the new campus-wide Brain and Behavior Initiative (BBI) was announced by the Provost. It includes three-year, $1.8 million support from the Provost’s office, the Vice President of Research, and seven colleges: the A. James Clark School of Engineering; the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences; the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences; the School of Public Health; the College of Education; the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and the College of Arts and Humanities.

The brain contains many mysteries: how it develops, maintains its health, struggles with disease, ages and works to produce complex behaviors. To solve these mysteries, tools and technologies need to be developed that can measure activity from the cellular level to complex behavior. The BBI aims to revolutionize brain research across disciplines by generating these tools. It also will develop novel approaches to image neuronal function, micro and nano system diagnostics and drug delivery technologies as well as big data methods that push the frontiers of research.

Likewise, to advance brain research, engineers and material scientists will need to work with neuroscientists and psychologists to push the frontiers of measuring and assessing brain function. As Maryland researchers learned in the campus-wide workshop, this diverse expertise—from computer scientists to public health experts to performance artists—will help BBI break down the silos that keep researchers working in isolation and create a novel and integrated understanding of human behavior. The fact that seven diverse colleges at the university are offering financial support speaks volumes about the unique and truly interdisciplinary nature of the work.

BBI’s first initiative is a seed grant program that will fund innovative research ideas submitted by University of Maryland faculty teaming up across campus. The program began in fall 2015 and seed grant recipients will be announced in early 2016.

Published November 6, 2015