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President Obama Awards CSI Prof Dan McCloskey with Nation’s Highest Honor for Early Career Researchers

February 24, 2016

Dr. Dan McCloskey standing by a computer array in the Higher Performance Computing Center that crunches the data received by the transponders that track the social interactions and movements of the Naked Mole-rats.

President Barack Obama named College of Staten Island (CSI) Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Daniel McCloskey a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, granting him the U.S. government’s highest award for scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Dr. McCloskey, who is one of 105 researchers awarded this national distinction, was selected for his research that combines “modeling, neurophysiology, and systems biology/network science that will transform the field of social neuroscience by providing a comprehensive approach towards understanding the role of neuropetides in complex behavioral systems,” according to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Obama said. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.” The purpose of the award is to encourage and accelerate American innovation to grow the economy and tackle the country’s greatest challenges.

Dr. Daniel McCloskey to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the U.S. government's highest award for researchers in the early stages of their research careers.

“I am humbled to receive this recognition,” commented Dr. McCloskey. “It represents the hard work, creativity, and support from a team of students and colleagues who share my enthusiasm. I am also proud that our efforts have been considered ‘promising’ by the White House, as this confidence recognizes the progressive combination of resources and brain power at CSI to not only conduct cutting-edge research, but also to see it succeed. We look forward to delivering on that promise, by continuing to find new approaches to study the social brain.”

A Named Mole-rat "lunching" on a slice of cantaloupe in The McCloskey Laboratory animal facility, one of only approximately 12 such labs throughout the world working with the fossorial rodents native to parts of East Africa.

Dr. McCloskey will deliver on that promise by studying the African Naked Mole-rat, a unique and highly social fossorial rodent, and harnessing the power of the Interdisciplinary High-Performance Computing Center on the College’s campus, one of the region’s most powerful supercomputers. The computer center allows Dr. McCloskey to track the behavior of each of more than 100 animals in his colony with high resolution as they navigate their way through a complex system of tubes and cages. The animals are implanted with transponders similar to the ones used to pay tolls on bridges. Each time an animal passes through a tube with a sensor, the identity, location, and time of that event is stored in a database that receives hundreds of thousands of events each day. Analysis of these large datasets requires the power of a high-performance computer to manage them and ask questions about animal behavior. In this manner, insights into the organized social community will help the researchers to understand how individual differences in social behavior are influenced by physiological and environmental factors and understand the role of social behavior brain systems in health, as well as develop deeper insights into diseases such as epilepsy and autism.

The complex research being conducted “includes researchers from postdoctoral scientists to high school students, and all levels in between,” Dr. McCloskey notes with pride.

“The College of Staten Island has received numerous national accolades this year highlighting the transformative educational opportunities provided to our students and the professional prospects of our alumni,” noted Dr. William J. Fritz, President of the College of Staten Island and Fellow of the Geological Society of America. “Dr. McCloskey’s recognition by the National Science Foundation and President Obama is a testament to the high-caliber research that our students are exposed to in Dr. McCloskey’s lab, and indicative of the overall cutting-edge research being conducted at CSI. I extend my sincerest congratulations to Dr. McCloskey and his research team.”

“Dan McCloskey is a CSI faculty superstar who is deserving of this enormous honor in every way,” added Dr. Gary W. Reichard, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at CSI. “He not only conducts highly significant, cutting-edge research with real-world implications, but also serves as a mentor and role model daily for undergraduates and graduate students alike.  We are proud of him, and deeply grateful for his contributions to science and to our students.”

Dr. McCloskey is one of 21 Presidential Award recipients whose research was nominated by the NSF. Foundation Director France Córdova congratulated the “teacher-scholars who are developing new generations of outstanding scientists and engineers and ensuring this nation is a leading innovator. I applaud these recipients for their leadership, distinguished teaching, and commitment to public outreach.” Dr. McCloskey was awarded a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the NSF in 2012, one of approximately 500 nationwide.

The White House will hold a spring ceremony recognizing the honorees.

For more information, visit The McCloskey Laboratory online at http://mccloskey.neuro.nyc.

For more information on Naked Mole-rats, visit National Geographic.

By Ken Bach


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