Marc Gershow, an assistant professor in NYU's Department of Physics, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award, which will support research aimed at gaining new insights into the sense of smell.
Gershow, who recently received a "New Innovator" Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), applies methods from physics, engineering, and computer vision to learn how the brain processes information and makes decisions. Under this grant, his lab will study how fruit fly larvae use the sense of smell to seek out or avoid odor sources, using light to read and control individual neurons in moving larvae.
CAREER awards are the most prestigious NSF award for junior faculty and are given to those who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research. Gershow's grant, part of NSF's BRAIN Initiative, is for five years and approximately $705,000.
Fruit flies are considered a model organism for studying and understanding the basic principles of humans' sense of smell. By studying how given odor stimulates or inhibits a set of the flies' odor receptor neurons, Gershow and his research team can begin to address broader questions, such as: How do brains make decisions based on noisy and often conflicting sensory input? and Why does the same input elicit variable behaviors, even in the simplest organisms?
The endeavor will also involve undergraduates and high school students, especially from underrepresented groups, who will be actively involved in the research. In addition, the project will include outreach to local elementary students--notably, the creation of a program to engage students in tinkering and construction.