President Obama named 106 researchers, including Duke Neurobiology's Kafui Dzirasa, PhD, as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. The winners will receive their awards at a Washington, DC ceremony this spring.
“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Obama said. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”
The focus of Dr. Dzirasa's research at Duke University is to determine how genetic variants interact with environmental factors (including stress and drugs of abuse) to lead to mental illness. He and his lab team accomplish this by implanting multiple small electrodes directly into the brains of mice that express genes which lead to mental illness in humans. They then monitor the activity of many brain cells simultaneously as these mice perform various behavioral tasks. They also record brain activity in mice exposed to various environmental stresses, and drugs of abuse. It is their hope that these experiments will one day lead to the discovery of new treatments for patients with mental illness.
The Presidential Early Career Awards highlight the key role that the Administration places in encouraging and accelerating American innovation to grow our economy and tackle our greatest challenges. This year’s recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and the Intelligence Community. These departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.
The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.
For a complete list of this year's recipients, please view the official White House press release.