The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) Program recently honored 12 NIH researchers , including NIMH grantee Beatriz Luna, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology and Director of the Laboratory for Neurocognitive Development at the University of Pittsburgh. The PECASE Program is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. The honorees received their awards at a White House ceremony on July 26, 2006.
Dr. Luna received the award for her work on "Cognitive and Brain System Maturation Through Adolescence," focusing on how the brain and thought processes change and integrate from childhood through adulthood to support adult-level functioning and behavior control. Using some of the latest brain imaging technologies, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Dr. Luna and her colleagues were able to observe not only changes in the brain during various activities, but also how the connections between different regions of the brain change during development. This research will help scientists understand the course of "normal" maturation of the brain and behavioral control processes, which in turn will be useful in identifying how impairments of cognitive maturation contribute to psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders, that often emerge during adolescence.
The PECASE Program, established in 1996, recognizes extraordinary achievements by young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers in the fields of science and technology. Awards are given annually and provide up to five years of research funding. Eight Federal departments and agencies take part in the PECASE program:
- National Science Foundation
- National Science and Technology Council
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Commerce
- Department of Defense
- Department of Energy
- Department of Health and Human Services: National Institutes of Health
- Department of Transportation
- Department of Veterans Affairs