MacArthur Award recipient to reveal how data unravels mysteries of the developing brain
Cognitive neuroscientist Damien Fair will share his research in such fields as ADHD and autism during a public lecture at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.
Damien Fair’s work contributes to unraveling the underlying processes that give rise to human behavior.
He developed the term “functional fingerprinting” to describe mapping the connectome, the neural pathways linking different brain regions that carry out specific tasks and influence behavior. His research has also contributed to informing our understanding of inherited and environmental influences on the developing brain.
“We've already seen a lot of inroads in some of that work and how it can help us to get the Holy Grail,” he said in one interview. “I just love understanding how the brain works, and I want to see if I can figure out some aspect of it that can help people in their everyday lives.”
In 2020 Fair was named a MacArthur Fellow, colloquially known as a “genius grant.” The annual prizes are awarded to individuals as recognition of their “originality, insight, and potential.”
Fair will talk about how big data inform what we can learn about the brain, from infancy through adolescence and young adulthood, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke.
In his lecture, “Developmental Cognitive Science in the Era of Big Data,” he will share insights into how the nexus between network science and big data is contributing to advancing developmental cognitive neuroscience.
Brain imaging tools such as functional MRI and functional connectivity MRI, along with the application of analytical and computational tools such as machine learning, are hallmarks of work being done at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. Fair will bring the perspective of access to neuro-behavioral data across larger populations and computing resources that allow faster collection and processing of that data.
“The advances in neuroscience over the last 20 years have been accelerating at a pace that challenges all of us in the field to keep up with copious amounts of new data and even more importantly to be able to categorize, integrate, and understand the material to reach a consilience that enlightens vs. obscures the plethora of information, and Dr. Fair is a leader in helping us achieve that goal,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute who is also a neuroscientist. “His work strongly relates to that being done at the institute, particularly processes in functional neurodivergence.”
Fair is the Redleaf endowed director of the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also holds appointments as a professor in the Institute of Child Development and Department of Pediatrics. His research focuses on developmental neuroscience in such areas as achievement gaps, autism, executive function, and prenatal brain development. He received his doctoral degree in neuroscience from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The lecture series is made possible by Maury Strauss, a longtime Roanoke businessman and benefactor who recognizes the importance of bringing leading biomedical research scientists to the community. The public is welcome to attend the free public lecture, which will be preceded by a 5 p.m. reception in the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at 2 Riverside Circle on Virginia Tech’s Roanoke campus.