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The NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series: Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience in the Era of Big Data

Date and Time

3:00–4:00 PM ET



Sponsored by: NIMH Division of Extramural Affairs

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On September 9, 2021, Damien Fair PA-C, Ph.D., was the next guest speaker for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Director’s Innovation Speaker Series. Dr. Fair is a founding co-director of the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Dr. Fair’s research focuses on mechanisms and principles underlying child and adolescent brain development. Most of his work uses functional MRI and resting-state functional connectivity MRI to assess typical and atypical populations.

The field of cognitive neuroscience, particularly developmental cognitive neuroscience, continues to evolve in ways that its founders may not have recognized nearly 50 years ago. The past decade has witnessed the emergence of a series of openly available, large-scale (N > 1000) neuroimaging data resources, spanning a range of populations and experimental designs. Over the same period, the growth of small N studies (N ~ 1-10) with massive amounts of within-subject imaging (>10 hrs) and phenotyping have also emerged. These “big data” areas have brought about new concepts and technologies but have also highlighted new challenges and pitfalls in the field.  On the one hand, these growing pains revealed the promise of the work for understanding complex human brain function and its translational potential. On the other hand, it exposed practices slowing progress.

Modern-day efforts toward characterizing correspondence of complex behavioral phenotypes to networks and systems in the brain require new sample collection strategies, study designs, and analytic strategies. During his talk, Dr. Fair highlighted positive developments in functional neuroimaging with the potential to put the field on a more solid footing moving forward and realize the translational potential of these non-invasive methodologies.


NIMH established the Director’s Innovation Speaker Series to encourage broad, interdisciplinary thinking in the development of scientific initiatives and programs, and to press for theoretical leaps in science over the continuation of incremental thought. Innovation speakers are encouraged to describe their work from the perspective of breaking through existing boundaries and developing successful new ideas, as well as working outside their primary area of expertise in ways that have pushed their fields forward. We encourage discussions of the meaning of innovation, creativity, breakthroughs, and paradigm-shifting.


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