December 2, 2014

Two expert neuroscientists to join UChicago faculty in July from University of Oregon

Two key neuroscientists from the University of Oregon (UO) will join the growing neuroscience and cellular science faculty at the University of Chicago. Professors Ed Awh and Ed Vogel, internationally known scholars in the cognitive neuroscience of attention and memory, have announced that they will leave UO in July 2015 to continue their work on human memory and attention here at UChicago.

Awh and Vogel have built a highly productive and innovative research collaboration. According to the University of Oregon’s website, Awh’s recent research has found evidence of a significant intersection between the systems behind perceptual selection and the systems that actively maintain information in working memory. Vogel, specifically, has focused on how visual working memory functions in relation to selective attention processes.

Despite UO’s efforts to keep Awh and Vogel, there was little it could do. “It was just so far out of our range and ballpark. It would be out of the range of most other public universities, too,” Ulrich Mayr, head of the psychology department at UO, told The Register-Guard, the main newspaper for Eugene, OR, where UO is located.

Awh and Vogel both highlighted the appeal of the strong institutional support offered at UChicago as a major factor in their decision to relocate.

“UChicago has a phenomenal academic tradition. In particular what I think is really exciting about it are the vast resources and the investment in top-notch research and education,” Vogel said.

Awh further emphasized the contrast between the support available at UO and at UChicago. “UO is a public university with relatively little support from the state so that does put constraints on the ability to support research in the university,” he said. “We’re excited to go to a place where we can really push forward a broad program of neuroscience with the support of a university that has a lot of resources to make things possible.”

Both researchers look forward to building bridges between various disciplines in their work at UChicago. Awh expressed plans to link research in human subjects and in animal laboratories to obtain more detailed models of how cognitive processes work in the brain. Vogel characterizes his work as an intersection of traditional psychology and neurobiology, and sees great potential to enhance the connection between the two departments in the future.

Regarding how the addition of Awh and Vogel may collaborate with the new Institute of Molecular Engineering, Vogel said, “as we move forward, especially at the cellular and neuroscience level, there are a lot of exciting new possibilities for engineering. My work wouldn’t directly affect the [Institute], but at that level there will be tools that can really give sort of unprecedented access and power to understand basic neural circuits.”

The psychology and neuroscience communities at UChicago are eager to accept Awh and Vogel into their numbers. Amanda Woodward, chair of the psychology department and president of the cognitive development society at UChicago, lauded the professors’ use of innovative behavioral and neuroscientific techniques, as well as groundbreaking approaches to the analysis of measurements from brain imaging. These methods are extending scientific understanding of human memory and attention through discoveries about the cognitive and neural basis of human abilities to concentrate, attend, and remember.

“I am absolutely delighted that Ed Awh and Ed Vogel have decided to join the faculty at Chicago,” Woodward wrote in an e-mail. “They will bring new ideas and discoveries to campus and greatly enrich our intellectual community and the opportunities that students have to learn from and engage in research.”