Neuroscience professor honored with National Academy of Sciences Award

February 8, 2019

UPDATED: 2/9 3:00 PM

Eve Marder ’69, the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience, was awarded the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Award in the Neurosciences earlier this year. Known as one of the most influential neuroscientists of her generation according to the NAS website, Marder’s research during the past 40 years has given insights into the “fundamental processes of animal and human brains.”

The award was established by the Fidia Research Foundation and comes with a $25,000 prize. Marder is just the second woman to ever win this award since its inception in 1988.

Marder’s research focuses on the ganglia, small groups of neurons, in lobsters and crabs. The ganglia has 30 neurons, which allows them to be more easily analyzed and recorded. According to the NAS website, the early years of Marder’s research showed that neuronal circuits are not “hard-wired,” but have the ability to be reconfigured to produce various outputs.

Her research is the subject of the book, “Lessons from the Lobster: Eve Marder’s Work in Neuroscience,” written by Charlotte Nassim. Published by MIT Press, the book describes “how forty years of research on thirty neurons in the stomach of a lobster has yielded valuable insights from the study of the human brain,” according to the MIT Press website.

Lily He ’19 has been working in Marder’s lab since she was a first-year and has seen the environment of the lab shift throughout her years at Brandeis. “I really enjoy getting to know everyone and Eve over science, snacks and puzzles,” she told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview.

Some of her fondest memories were during lab meetings, where the Principal Investigator (PI) of the lab meets with all the members of their labs to go over everything that has been happening. “We sometimes have lab meetings where we just have people throwing puns left and right and Eve is giving everyone sass and we can’t even fight it because she’s always right,” said He. She also commented on how they go over to Marder’s house for parties and work on very large jigsaw puzzles.

When looking for labs to join, He was initially drawn to Marder because of the accessibility of her work and her value as a PI. “As a PI, she really cares about everyone in the lab and the work we do. She’s very invested in our growth and development and our learning, from undergraduates to postdoctoral students,” she told The Hoot. “She always has a sharp eye for areas of growth that we might have and frequently gives us very helpful advice because of how much she knows from personal experience and from working in this area for such a long time.”

He, speaking on behalf of not only her other lab members but also the scientific community, is “very happy to see recognition for her [Marder’s] groundbreaking work, perseverance in this small field, extraordinary efforts in mentoring and teaching and genius in her research over the years.”

This NAS Award in the Neurosciences is awarded every three years to “recognize extraordinary contributions to the progress of the neuroscience fields, including neurochemistry, neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, developmental neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and behavioral and clinical neuroscience,” according to the NAS website.

NAS is a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars, according to their website. Started by an Act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, “the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the national on matters related to science and technology … [and is] committed to furthering science in America, and its members are active contributors to the international scientific community,” states their website. The National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine are also under NAS.

Membership into NAS is seen as a “mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientists can receive.” There are currently around 2400 members and almost 500 foreign associates.

In order to become a member of NAS, current Academy members have to submit formal nominations, which is followed by an extensive vetting process. Members of the Academy vote in the annual meeting each year for new members, with a maximum of 100 new members each year. All members must be U.S. citizens with a maximum of 25 years as non-citizens, who can be elected as foreign associates.

Marder got elected into NAS in 2007 and will receive the award on Apr. 28 at the 156th NAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

CORRECTION: Marder works specifically with the stomatogastric ganglion in her laboratory.

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