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Emery Brown wins Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience

Award cites major contributions to statistical analysis of brain activity and advancing the neuroscience of anesthesia.
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A portrait photo of Emery N. Brown
A neuroscientist, statistician, and anesthesiologist, Emery Brown was recognized for his many contributions to understanding brain activity and the neuroscience of anesthesia.
Photo: Joshua Sarinana

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) announced today that it has awarded the Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience to Emery N. Brown, the Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and Computational Neuroscience at MIT.

Brown, a member of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, as well as the Warren M. Zapol Professor at Harvard Medical School, is a neuroscientist, a statistician, and a practicing anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. His research has produced principled and efficient new methods for decoding patterns of neural and brain network activity and has advanced neuroscientific understanding of how anesthetics affect the brain, which can improve patient care.

“Dr. Brown’s seminal scientific contributions to neural signal processing and the theory of anesthetic mechanisms, together with his service as an educator and a physician, make him highly deserving of the 2020 Swartz Prize,” SfN President Barry Everitt said in a press release announcing the award. “Dr. Brown has demonstrated an unusually broad knowledge of neuroscience, a deep understanding of theoretical and computational tools, and an uncanny ability to find explanatory simplicity lurking beneath complicated observational phenomena.”

In its announcement, the world’s largest neuroscience organization elaborated on the breadth and depth of Brown’s influence in many lines of research.

“Brown’s insights and approaches have been critical to the development of some of the first models estimating functional connectivity among a group of simultaneously recorded neurons,” SfN’s announcement stated. “He has contributed statistical methods to analyze recordings of circadian rhythms and signal processing methods to analyze neuronal spike trains, local field potentials and EEG recordings.”

With regard to anesthesiology, the statement continued: “Brown has proposed that the altered arousal states produced by the principal classes of anesthetics can be characterized by analyzing the locations of their molecular targets, along with the anatomy and physiology of the circuits that connect these locations. Overall, his systems neuroscience paradigm, supported by mechanistic modeling and cutting-edge statistical evaluation of evidence, is transforming anesthesiology from an empirical, clinical practice into a principled neuroscience-based discipline.”

Brown says the recognition made him thankful for the chances his research, teaching, and medical practice have given him to work with colleagues and students.

“Receiving the Swartz Prize is a great honor,” he says. “The prize recognizes my group’s work to characterize more accurately the properties of neural systems by developing and applying statistical methods and signal processing algorithms that capture their dynamical features. It further recognizes our efforts to uncover the neurophysiological mechanisms of how anesthetics work, and to translate those insights into new practices for managing patients receiving anesthesia care.

“Finally,” he adds, “receipt of the Swartz Prize makes me eternally grateful for the outstanding colleagues, graduate students, postdocs, undergraduates, research assistants, and staff with whom I have had the good fortune to work.”

The prize, which includes $30,000, was awarded during SfN’s Awards Announcement Week, Oct. 26-29.

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