Emory professor named Cottrell Scholar for outstanding contributions to science

By Barbara Voss | Emory Report | July 2, 2019

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Gordon Berman is a recipient of the highly competitive 2019 Cottrell Scholar Awards, which recognize early-career teacher-scholars. The award will enable additional opportunities for students and postdoctoral scholars to participate in groundbreaking research. Emory Photo/Video

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The Research Corporation for Science Advancement has named Emory professor Gordon Berman as one of the 24 recipients of the prestigious and highly competitive 2019 Cottrell Scholar Awards. The Cottrell Scholar Award recognizes early-career teacher-scholars for outstanding contributions to science and citizenship.

Berman will receive $100,000 toward a three-year project integrating his teaching and research. As part of his award, Berman will attend two Cottrell Scholar Conferences to participate in a community of scholars from around the United States.

“We are extremely pleased that Dr. Berman has been recognized as a Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement,” says Dwight A. McBride, Emory provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Dr. Berman’s research models the interdisciplinary mindset that Emory cultivates within our community, and the award allows additional opportunities for students and postdoctoral scholars to learn through participation in groundbreaking research.”

Berman, an assistant professor of biology, joins four distinguished Emory faculty members who also have earned the prestigious Cottrell Scholar Awards: Hayk Harutyunyan, physics, 2018; Minsu Kim, physics, 2017; Jennifer Heemstra, chemistry, 2015; and Sergei Urazhdin, physics, 2008.

Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) is America’s first foundation dedicated wholly to science.

“The Cottrell Scholar program champions the very best early-career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy by providing these significant discretionary awards,” says Daniel Linzer, RCSA president and CEO. Outstanding candidates are admitted to the ranks of Cottrell Scholars through a stringent peer-review process based on their research proposals and education programs.

Berman’s research, which takes place at the intersection of theoretical biophysics and computational neuroscience, focuses on information bottlenecks and the neural control of behavior in fruit flies. In the fruit fly, there are approximately 300 pairs of descending interneurons that project from the head to the rest of the body.

Berman’s lab is working to decode how signals from the brain translate into movement while moving through this bottleneck by analyzing data from neural stimulation experiments and developing theoretical and computational models.

“We are attempting to find general principles that govern how animals move and trying to link those ideas to the neural circuitry and the genetics underlying them,” says Berman. “These results will also be used to shed light on the mechanisms of behavioral evolution between nearby species. Understanding how an animal chooses to perform a particular action at a particular time is an important step towards understanding how dysfunction emerges in conditions like Parkinson’s disease, where such choices become impaired."

Berman’s innovative research and external recognition exemplify the pillars of the 10-year One Emory: Engaged for Impact strategic framework launched by President Claire E. Sterk and McBride in 2018. The four pillars to the strategic framework include: Faculty Excellence, Academic Community of Choice, Innovation Through Scholarship and Creative Expression, and Atlanta as a Gateway to the World.