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Awards and Recognition: Distinguished Faculty Award 2008

Banquet Speech

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picture of Olaf Sporns Olaf Sporns * Neuroscientist

Olaf Sporns’ insights about the brain offer a revolutionary image of neural activity, suggesting that what was once thought of as a passive data processor could instead be seen as a dynamic system of information retrieval and analysis.

Sporns, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, gathers clues from fMRI scans, diffusion spectrum imaging (a form of noninvasive neuroimaging that maps nerve fibers), network simulations, and even robotic models to develop a picture of the brain’s architecture and how it exchanges information with its environment. Contrary to earlier notions of an inert brain waiting to receive input, his findings indicate that the brain is always active, even when not engaged in a specific task, and that it uses the body to seek information.

Born in Kiel, Germany, Sporns worked as a research assistant at the Max Plank Institute before coming to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. at Rockefeller University. He spent another ten years working as a privately-funded research fellow, but decided he wanted to share his passion in an academic setting and applied to IU in 2000.

Since then, he has received the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award and the Trustees Teaching Award from the university, helped to edit several academic journals, and brought in grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.

His research shows promise in the areas of brain disease and recovery and the development of humanoid robots that can learn and interact extensively with human beings.