How does sleep affect individual memories? How do brain cells connect to form meaningful networks? How is a word like "chair" conceptualized in the mind?

To support potentially transformative research in neural and cognitive systems, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded 16 grants to multidisciplinary teams from across the United States.

Each award brings together scientists and engineers from diverse fields to investigate brain-related mysteries.

The awards fall within two themes: neuroengineering and brain-inspired concepts and designs, and individuality and variation. Each provides up to $1 million over two to four years.

"These new projects will explore big, exciting ideas in neuroscience to push hard against the boundaries of what we know," said Betty Tuller, NSF program director in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate, who will help oversee the awards.

Understanding the brain

The awards stem from the cross-disciplinary NSF Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems program, which supports innovative, integrative, boundary-crossing approaches necessary to advance brain science. They are the result of the program’s first solicitation for research proposals, released in fall 2014.

"These teams are building on creative ideas from within and beyond neuroscience," said Kenneth Whang, NSF program director in the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Directorate, which co-funds the awards. "We're seeing some dynamic new research collaborations that will have huge impacts on fundamental questions, and on what we can discover or invent in the future."

The NSF directorates for Engineering and for Education and Human Resources also support the awards. NSF will announce new research themes soon, along with a call for new proposals.

These new awards will contribute to NSF’s significant investments in support of the BRAIN Initiative, a coordinated research effort that seeks to accelerate the development of new neurotechnologies that promise to help researchers answer fundamental questions about how the brain works.

Among the 16 awarded proposals is one co-led by Zhong-Lin Lu of Ohio State University and Mark Steyvers of the University of California, Irvine. Using joint hierarchical Bayesian modeling of behavioral and neuroimaging data, they aim to gain a better neural-understanding of individual differences in cognitive performance. There work is detailed online with $301,365 in funding that started in August and will run through July 2018.

-from the National Science Foundation 

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