WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has announced that Fumiko Hoeft, MD, PhD; Teodora Stoica; and Elena Blanco-Suárez, PhD, will receive this year's Science Education and Outreach Awards, which include the Science Educator Award and the Next Generation Award. The awards will be presented in San Diego at Neuroscience 2018, SfN's annual meeting and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
Science Educator Award: Fumiko Hoeft
This year's Science Educator Award honors Fumiko Hoeft, professor of psychiatry at the Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco and executive director of the Multi-University Precision Learning Center. The $5,000 prize, supported by The Dana Foundation, recognizes up to two neuroscientists who have made significant contributions to educating the public about neuroscience through outreach, policy, and education, while continuing to devote time primarily to research. Recipients also receive the opportunity to write a feature commentary on science education in SfN's open-access peer-reviewed journal, eNeuro.
"Hoeft bridges outstanding research into the root causes of learning with giving back to the neuroscience community and the public. She is well-deserving of this award that recognizes her creativity in her work and her passion for communicating scientific knowledge to others," SfN President Richard Huganir said.
By studying the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for individual differences in learning to read, brain maturation, and how the two interact, Hoeft aims to find the causes of learning disabilities and to implement that knowledge to improve education. As her model system she studies dyslexia, a neurobiological condition that affects five to ten percent of children.
Hoeft also researches how genetics and environment influence neurodevelopment. As a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, she discovered how dyslexia's atypical neurobiological processes are a fundamental neurobiological signature of dyslexia, not of reading level. This understanding led her to hypothesize a neurobiological model of reading development, which she is now exploring. Her research has involved using and developing innovative tools and techniques such as neuroimaging, machine-learning algorithms, and perturbation to gather and analyze data.
When she is not at the bench, Hoeft partners with primary and secondary schools as well as universities and nonprofits to help to improve reading proficiency. She has diversified the International Dyslexia Association's Scientific Advisory Board by creating a nomination process that increases representation in academic expertise, seniority, and nationality.
Next Generation Award: Teodora Stoica and Elena Blanco-Suárez
The Next Generation Award recognizes SfN chapter members, one at the pre- or postdoctoral level and one at the junior faculty level, for their outstanding efforts to share neuroscience with the public through communication, education, and outreach. Each of their respective chapters will receive a $2,000 chapter grant.
"Stoica's and Blanco-Suárez's sharing of science with their local communities is unrivaled and worth recognizing," SfN President Richard Huganir said. "Each has demonstrated leadership in the field and within her community -- Stoica in Louisville, Kentucky, and Blanco-Suárez in San Diego, California."
Pre/Postdoctoral: Teodora Stoica
Since engaging with middle school students from underprivileged neighborhoods during a Neuroscience Day eight years ago, Stoica has wanted to provide young people with the chance to conduct research in a university laboratory. After entering a Translational Neuroscience doctoral program at the University of Louisville's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and becoming outreach coordinator of her local SfN chapter, Stoica made it a priority to establish an internship program for students with no other access to research opportunities. She conceived and developed the Louisville Science Pathways program and has served as the program's director since 2017.
For program participants, many of whom come from underrepresented communities, the chance to be matched with a University of Louisville science or medical lab presents an invaluable opportunity to gain research experience. High school students perform graduate-level research for eight weeks for a minimum of 20 hours a week, and many present their work at local scientific conferences and participate in weekly science and career development seminars and networking events. The students who participated in last year's summer program have been accepted to competitive colleges and are planning to pursue research or medical careers.
"Without Ms. Stoica, the Louisville Chapter's outreach program would certainly not be as successful, and the amazing opportunities in our community, created by her Louisville Science Pathways program, would not be possible," said Kristofer Rau, 2016¬-2017 president of SfN's Louisville Chapter and last year's junior faculty award recipient.
Junior Faculty: Elena Blanco-Suárez
Blanco-Suárez demonstrates a similar enthusiasm for sharing her love of science. A postdoctoral fellow at the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Blanco-Suárez has mentored undergraduate students in the laboratory, and she quickly sought out the school's Education Outreach department, which connects scientists with the greater San Diego County community. She often gives informal talks in Salk's Meet-a-Scientist program for visitors and with Two Scientists Walk into a Bar, through which she and other scientists engage the public with their research. She is also involved with the Sharp Minds Lecture Series for Adults, which explains the role of astrocytes in neurodegenerative diseases, and a program called 52 Weeks of Science that brings science closer to San Diego's Hispanic community.
Blanco-Suárez is both a science communicator and an English-to-Spanish translator. She writes to more than 36,000 readers about recent findings in neuroscience on a blog for Psychology Today called "Brain Chemistry." She has also written for PLOS Neuroscience Community, Nature Jobs, Marie Curie Alumni, and NeuWrite San Diego.
A key aspect of Blanco-Suárez's volunteerism is trying to involve more women and underrepresented communities in the sciences, whether that be by highlighting female scientists, talking about her own career path, or bringing in speakers. She has talked to students at middle schools, high schools, and universities, including through the University of California, San Diego's Colors of the Brain and the Salk Mobile Science Lab.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 36,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.