IARS Past Chair Dr. Emery Brown awarded SfN’s 2020 Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience

IARS Past Chair Emery N. Brown, MD, PhD, has been awarded the 2020 Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). Supported by the Swartz Foundation, this $30,000 prize honors an individual whose work has produced a significant cumulative contribution to theoretical and computational methods in neuroscience, has introduced new ideas and directions for brain research or made a pioneering recent advancement to the specialty. With his breadth and depth of influence in decoding patterns of neural and brain network activity and advancing how anesthetics affect the brain, Dr. Brown certainly more than meets the award’s aims.

A neuroscientist, statistician and anesthesiologist and the Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and Computational Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Brown’s research combines statistics, mechanistic modeling, neuroscience, and the clinical practice of anesthesiology. His work has led to the development of some of the first models estimating functional connectivity among a group of simultaneously recorded neurons. Establishing statistical methods to analyze recordings of circadian rhythms and signal processing methods to analyze neuronal spike trains, local field potentials, and EEG recordings are included among his many significant accomplishments.

“Dr. Brown’s seminal scientific contributions to neural signal processing and the theory of anesthetic mechanisms, together with his service as an educator and a physician, make him highly deserving of the 2020 Swartz Prize,” SfN President Barry Everitt, PhD said in the society’s announcement of the award. “Dr. Brown has demonstrated an unusually broad knowledge of neuroscience, a deep understanding of theoretical and computational tools, and an uncanny ability to find explanatory simplicity lurking beneath complicated observational phenomena.” SfN is one of the world’s largest neuroscience organizations, comprised of nearly 36,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system. SfN conceived of this prize to better understand the brain/mind relationship by exploring the application of physics, mathematics, and computer engineering principles to neuroscience.

With his systems neuroscience paradigm, supported by mechanistic modeling and forward-thinking statistical evaluation of evidence, Dr. Brown has made major inroads to achieving a better understanding of this relationship and has transformed anesthesiology from an empirical, clinical practice into a principled neuroscience-based principle. These are just some of the reasons that SfN’s nomination committee chose Dr. Brown for the Swartz Prize from SfN’s largest and most competitive pool of nominees to date.

Dr. Brown expressed his gratitude for the outstanding colleagues, graduate students, postdocs, undergraduates, research assistants, and staff with whom he has had the good fortune to work and for their help in uncovering important discoveries in mental states and the effects of anesthetic agents.

In addition to his groundbreaking research, Dr. Brown also dedicates one day a week in the operating room, caring for patients and serves as the Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. At MIT, he also acts as Director, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, Associate Director, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and Investigator, Picower Center for Learning and Memory, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

“Receiving the Swartz Prize is a great honor,” he said in MIT’s press release. “The prize recognizes my group’s work to characterize more accurately the properties of neural systems by developing and applying statistical methods and signal processing algorithms that capture their dynamical features. It further recognizes our efforts to uncover the neurophysiological mechanisms of how anesthetics work, and to translate those insights into new practices for managing patients receiving anesthesia care.”

SfN presented the award to Dr. Brown during its Awards Announcement Week 2020. To watch the full video announcement, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVqSkyBNoxk.

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