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Brain and Behavior Institute to Create Nerve Center in Neuroscience

Multidisciplinary Research to Be Led by First Clark Leadership Chair

By Nathaniel Underland

Illustration of person standing next to brain

Image by Shutterstock

The new Brain and Behavior Institute will elevate neuroscience research at the University of Maryland through innovative, multidisciplinary approaches. It will be led by biology Professor Elizabeth Quinlan (below), also the new Clark Leadership Chair in Neuroscience.

The University of Maryland is elevating its research and teaching programs in neuroscience with the establishment of the new Brain and Behavior Institute (BBI), which promotes innovative, multidisciplinary approaches to the most pressing problems of nervous system function and disease.

Elizabeth Quinlan headshotBiology Professor Elizabeth Quinlan, the BBI’s founding director, will also hold the new Clark Leadership Chair in Neuroscience, endowed with an investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and a match from the state’s Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative Fund.

"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 the 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, the university has invested in the Brain and Behavior Initiative to foster interdisciplinary research in neuroscience across the College Park campus. At the heart of the initiative was a desire for a collaborative research community across the physical and life sciences. Its seed grant program yielded a 900% return on investments: 15 awards from private organizations and government funding from the National Institutes of Health 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).

“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 the University of Maryland to be a world leader in advancing innovations in experimental and analytical approaches to understanding the brain and behavior.”

A campus-wide endeavor, the BBI is administratively housed in CMNS and supported financially by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, Office of the Provost, UM Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Development, 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. 

Quinlan is the first of five Clark Leadership Chairs, highly competitive endowed faculty positions designed to cement Maryland as a powerhouse of research and leadership in fields such as data analytics, cybersecurity and virtual and augmented reality. The positions were established by the Clark Foundation’s transformative $219.5 million investment in the university in 2017.

In her own research program, Quinlan has identified changes in the brain that occur with aging, and pioneered strategies to promote recovery of functions lost with age. Research in her lab has been continuously funded by the NIH since 2002.

Quinlan, who has a joint appointment in UMB’s Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, arrived at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2002. She was co-director of the Brain and Behavior Initiative and the MPowering the State initiative on Brain Health and Human Performance from 2018-20. From 2007-16, she directed the physiological systems concentration area of the Biological Sciences Graduate Program.

“She incorporates a highly interdisciplinary approach to neuroscience in both classroom and lab settings,” former Provost and Senior Vice President Mary Ann Rankin said of Quinlan in a Jan. 22 statement. “I have no doubt that she will advance the rising profile of Maryland neuroscience research and promote the success of the BBI community.”

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