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Vanderbilt psychologist wins Sloan research fellowship

by Feb. 14, 2013, 9:00 AM

Alexander Maier (Vanderbilt University)
Alexander Maier (Vanderbilt University)

Alexander Maier, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, has won a two-year, $50,000 research fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation aimed at encouraging promising young scholars.

Sloan Research Fellowships seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise. Maier is one of 126 researchers in physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, neuroscience and economics selected this year for “their distinguished performance and unique potential to make substantial contributions to their fields,” according to the Sloan Foundation. Fellows can use their grant money to pursue any research that interests them.

Maier, who came to Vanderbilt in 2011, studies the organization of the visual cortex using a combination of neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques. The major focus of his research is to determine how the brain produces conscious experience through the identification and characterization of the neuronal processes involved in establishing subjective perception.

“From a substantive perspective, Alex is probing the mystery of how conscious perception arises from the activity of the brain,” explained Andrew Tomarken, associate professor of psychology and chair of the department. “This is clearly one of the most fascinating questions in the field of neuroscience, with evident implications for our understanding of the nature of consciousness and the mind-body problem.

“Alex’s work also addresses a critical methodological question: What is the relationship between various electrophysiological measures of brain activity commonly used in studies with nonhuman animals and the hemodynamic measures of brain activity that are commonly used in functional magnetic resonance imaging studies with humans? Alex is one of the handful of scientists around the world who is capable of addressing this question,” he said.

Tomarken said Maier’s conceptual abilities combined with his technical and methodological skills make him a unique and gifted researcher.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic nonprofit institution based in New York. It was established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and chief executive officer of the General Motors Corporation. Sloan Research Fellowships have been awarded since 1955. Since then, 39 Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in their fields and 16 have received the Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics.