Department of Neuroscience researchers Tom Franken, MD, PhD, and Alessandro Livi, PhD, are among the recipients of this year’s McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience Small Grants. The awards are each $100,000 over two years.
Franken, an Assistant Professor in the Department, studies how the brain makes sense of visual scenes. Previously, he discovered structures in the visual processing region of the brain that assemble border segments into object surfaces. This process is critical for localizing objects in a scene. The McDonnell grant will further this line of research by supporting studies on how the brain distinguishes objects from illumination patterns such as shadows. This process allows the brain to correctly infer object features (e.g. color) despite the presence of shadows. The Franken Lab aims to identify the neural circuits that carry out this fundamental computation.
Livi is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Professor Camillo Padoa-Schioppa. The Padoa-Schioppa Lab has made major contributions to understanding how the brain makes decisions based on the subjective value of the offers, a process known as economic choice. Padoa-Schioppa identified the brain region responsible for the decision-making process, and even described the computations cells within this region perform to choose. Livi’s grant will fund research to map how cells with different roles in decision-making are communicating with one another, with the goal of producing a wiring diagram of the economic choice network in the brain.