This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship award to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will address the next frontier in biotechnology: to engineer, and then decipher and harness, the living three-dimensional brain. The program will provide doctoral students with the skills and knowledge base to develop and utilize miniature brain machinery in an effort to understand and regulate brain activities. To achieve the goals of developing cross-disciplinary researchers, trainees will learn diverse fundamentals in biology, mathematics, engineering, and cognitive science, relevant to miniature brain machinery. The training grant anticipates providing a unique and comprehensive training opportunity for sixty (60) PhD students, including thirty four (34) funded trainees. Trainees will be recruited from neuroscience, cell and developmental biology, molecular and integrative physiology, chemistry, chemical and biomolecular engineering, bioengineering, electrical and computer engineering, and psychology. The training program will foster a culture of innovation and translational research, and will produce a new generation of scientists and engineers prepared to tackle major problems in brain studies that can improve the quality of human life.
The research and training program will bridge two dominant, non-overlapping brain research paradigms: i) cognitive and behavioral studies, focused principally on understanding of adaptation, decision-making, psychology, and learning of an individual using bioimaging and computational tools vs. ii) cell and tissue studies, focused on activities of multiple neuronal cells by altering their internal and external microenvironments comprised of biomolecules, extracellular matrix, and external stimuli. The goal of this NRT training program is to unite these two dominant paradigms in brain science studies and bridge the expertise of cell and molecular biologists, physiologists, chemists, nano/micro technologists, and cognitive neuroscientists. This training program prepares students for studies that enable control over the networks producing behavior and thus to study causal relations. The overarching goal of the program is to provide students with an interdisciplinary curriculum grounded in problem-based learning and an immersive research experience that blends techniques from multiple disciplines. A second goal is to increase the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities in neuroscience, life sciences, chemical sciences, and engineering fields. A third goal is to train students in communication skills with the public. Evaluative studies conducted throughout this research traineeship project will explore the dynamics and efficacy of interdisciplinary collaboration by students in this program. Project outcomes will be a demonstrated, evaluated model for transformative graduate training that is effective in developing broadly trained professionals.
The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The Traineeship Track is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas, through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.