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Perspectives in funding research in neuroinformatics

Kathie Olsen                  The National Science Foundation, USA


Neuroinformatics:  Past Contributions, Current Challenges,
and Future Possibilities


With the advent of transformative imaging technologies; incredible new data management and visualization tools; and computationally sophisticated approaches to modeling and analysis of the brain, neuroscience has evolved from the primarily phenomenological science of the 1980s to today’s computationally intensive and data-rich analytical science.  Neuroinformatics has been and will continue to be at the core of neuroscience transformations; a catalytic enabler of disciplinary paradigm shifts and of breakthroughs in knowledge and understanding.

In the US, neuroinformatics became significant force for change in the 1990s, the decade designated by the US President as the Decade of the Brain.  In recognition of the importance of data generation, access, analysis, visualization, and archival to potential advances in understanding the brain, an unprecedented partnership was formed between the Library of Congress and the National Institute of Mental Health to developed a Decade of the Brain initiative.  The initiative had the dual purposes of enhancing public awareness of the benefits of brain research and encouraging federal science agency collaboration to accelerate progress in the discipline.  In response to this initiative, in 1991 the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) co-funded a National Academies study; Mapping the Brain and its Functions, and in 1993 the federal, inter-agency Human Brain Project was launched with participation from NIH, NSF, Department of Energy, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  NSF also launched its Computational Neuroscience program, and the first annual NSF-funded computational neuroscience symposium was help in the Nils Hasselmo Hall at the University of Minnesota in October, 1999.  Subsequently, in 2002, an International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF) was recommended by the US-led Global Science Forum Neuroinformatics Working Group.  The INCF was established in 2004, and permanently located at Karolinska in 2007.

Today’s achievements rest on a long process of community building, advocacy, and attention to the adoption of tools and capabilities from all areas of science to advance our study of the brain.  The joint NSF-NIH Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience program is one current attempt to pursue collaboration driven by scientific challenges and the developing research capacity and capabilities in the current resource- and data-rich environment.  In five competitions thus far, the program has funded 92 collaborative projects, including several intensive data-sharing projects.  A new program in the NSF Engineering Directorate, Cognitive Optimization and Prediction: From Neuro Systems to Neurotechnology, seeks to understand how massively parallel circuits in brains address complex tasks in adaptive optimal decision-making and prediction, and to understand the system identification circuits in the brain which help make it possible.  The program hopes to stimulate and enlarge the new interdisciplinary communities whose research takes advantage of neuroinformatics, of high quality experimental data, and of fast changing cyberinfrastructure and collaborative environments.

As we look into the future of neuroinformatics, we at NSF see an even more important role for, and are increasing our investments in, advanced Cyberinfrastructure and in Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation.  We also envision neuroscience and neuroinformatics enabling an innovative new field we call Adaptive Systems Technology—the use of nervous-system inspired concepts in the development of engineered systems, especially at the human-machine interface.  Such pursuits must be integrated with education and training in ways such that there is mutual benefit from shared data and analysis capability, and work is enhanced through real-time collaboration.

Bio sketch:

Dr. Kathie L. Olsen was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in August 2005. At NSF, she is responsible for the day-to-day management and oversight of program creation and administration; national and international collaborations; merit review processes; strategic and long-term planning and performance; budget development, implementation and reporting; personnel; and operations.

Olsen joined NSF from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President where, since 2002, she had been the Associate Director and Deputy Director for Science. Her responsibilities included overseeing national and international science and education policy development and federal agency program coordination for the physical sciences, life sciences, environmental science, behavioral and social sciences and education.

Prior to OSTP, Olsen served as Chief Scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (May 1999-April 2002) and the Acting Associate Administrator for Biological and Physical Research (July 2000-March 2002). As Chief Scientist, she served as the Administrator's senior scientific advisor, principal advisor on budget content of the scientific programs and principal interface with the national and international scientific community. As Acting Associate Administrator during the formulation of the new Enterprise for Biological and Physical Research, she oversaw budget development and implementation, recruitment and development of professional and support staff and strategic planning.

Dr. Olsen was recruited to NASA from the NSF, where since 1997 she had been Senior Staff Associate for the Science and Technology Centers in the Office of Integrative Activities. From February 1996 until November 1997, she was a Legislative Fellow and detailee from NSF to the Office of Senator Conrad Burns of Montana. Between 1984 and 1996, she served NSF in a variety of administrative and scientific leadership positions. At various times in her early professional career, Dr. Olsen also served as a Research Scientist at the State University of New York – Stony Brook's Long Island Research Institute and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Medical School, as well as Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the George Washington University.

Dr. Olsen received a B.S. in Biology and Psychology with honors from Chatham College and Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California, Irvine. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Children's Hospital of Harvard Medical School. Her research on neural and genetic mechanisms underlying development and expression of behavior was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Olsen holds numerous awards from foreign entities, government agencies, institutions and scientific societies. These include the Norwegian Royal Order of Merit; NASA's Outstanding Leadership Medal; the NSF Director's Award of Excellence; awards for outstanding contributions from the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society and the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology; the Barry M. Goldwater Educator Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, National Capital Section; the University of California, Irvine Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumna Award; and the Barnard College Medal of Distinction. She is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Women in Science, and an elected member of the Explorers Club. She has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees from Chatham College, Clarkson University, and University of South Carolina.




Wolfgang Boch                    European Commission, Future and                                                           Emerging Technologies


Challenges and Opportunities in Neuro-Information Science as seen from an ICT perspective


As part of the Research Framework Programme of the European Union, Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) acts as the pathfinder for future information and communication technologies (ICTs). FET is an incubator for radically new ideas. It explores new research themes - often inspired by living systems from nature and biology - that promise to be foundational and of long-term relevance for a sustainable future of ICTs in Europe. FET promotes high-risk multidisciplinary research, offset by potential breakthroughs with high scientific, technological or societal impact.

Since the beginning of the 5th Framework Programme in 1999, FET has launched several trans-disciplinary research initiatives addressing neuro-information science and technology. The interest of the ICT Programme in funding this area is driven by the vision that ICT has a lot to learn from the way the living world processes information. Furthermore, combining the efforts of the strong European neuroscience and ICT research communities to tackle the grand challenges in neuro-informatics is seen to be mutually beneficial, as a source of new thinking, paradigms and models, for both computing and neuroscience.

The first research initiatives launched by FET dealt with 'Artefacts that Live and Grow' (2000, jointly with the EC Heath Programme) and Life-like Perception Systems (2001). This research has been continued with changing focuses in the initiatives 'Beyond Robotics' (2003), 'Bio-inspired Intelligent Information Systems (2004)', and 'Bio-ICT Convergence' (2007).

The results of these programmes include many success stories. At the same time new research directions and opportunities have been opened, confirming the earlier visions for breakthroughs and expected impacts on future ICT's. The imminent limits to the evolution of 'conventional' ICT's (miniaturisation, design complexity, fault tolerance, power consumption, adaptability, etc.) are driving our attention towards alternatives to present ICT concepts and technologies. This has prompted the European Commission to include neuro-information science also as one of the priorities for FET initiatives in the new ICT Workprogramme


Bio sketch:

Wolfgang Boch is working with the European Commission for more than 15 years on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), within the EU Framework Programmes for Research. In January 2007 he has been appointed Head of Unit for “Future and Emerging Technologies – Proactive Initiatives” in the context of Framework Programme VII (2007-20013). FET-Proactive aims to nurture the roots of innovation in Europe. It supports long-term and foundational research in ICT, in particular, radical interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary explorations (such as bio-nano-info-cogno) of new and alternative approaches towards the development new scientific foundations and technological breakthroughs. The FET proactive Initiatives are granted by the European Union a total funding of € 120 M for the years 2007-2008. The FET –scheme acts as the pathfinder and incubator for new ideas and themes for long-term research in the area of information and communication technologies.

His background is in Electrical Engineering and Informatics with a focus on feedback and control Systems. He holds a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Karlsruhe, Germany. Prior to joining the European Commission he worked for 10 years in R&D in the German aerospace and avionics industry. In the European Commission he has held previous positions as Head of Unit on ICT research related to Grids Technologies and Telematics Applications for the Environment.


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