• Nori Jacoby studies how different cultures use music and sound to make sense of the world around them. He earned a PhD in computational neuroscience from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before accepting a postdoctoral position in computational audition at MIT. He then traveled the world to explore musical perception across cultures. Neuroscience has often struggled to quantify the non-verbal experience, but Nori is able to explore these complex representations by creating new paradigms for scientific analysis that incorporate techniques from anthropology and ethnomusicology. For example, after discovering that students from Bolivia to South Korea seem to hear music in various similar ways, presumably because many of them listen to the same Western artists and genres, Nori was surprised to find that residents of the same city often have different interpretations of rhythm that correspond to the styles of music they regularly practice.

    Project Title: The Cultural Foundations of Auditory Processing
  • Noam Zerubavel is a social and neural scientist. He is broadly interested in understanding the building blocks of human relationships and group life. As a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Noam investigates the organizing sociological principles, psychological processes, and neural mechanisms that engender social ties and shape their network structure. This line of research integrates theories and methods from sociology, social psychology, and cognitive neuroscience to investigate questions that keep him up at night. For example, How do our brains track group members’ status? Why is dyadic liking typically—but not always—reciprocated?  How can we leverage neuroimaging techniques to better predict individuals’ unique patterns of interpersonal attraction?  Noam completed his PhD in psychology with Kevin Ochsner and postdoctoral training in social network analysis with Peter Bearman at Columbia University.

    Project Title: How Do We Connect? The Neural Foundations of Social Relations
  • Matteo Farinella received a PhD in neuroscience from University College London in 2013. Since then he has been combining his scientific expertise with a life-long passion for drawing, producing educational comics, illustrations, and animations.

    He is the author of Neurocomic (Nobrow 2013) published with the support of the Wellcome Trust, Cervellopoli (Editoriale Scienza 2017) and The Senses (Nobrow 2017). He has worked with universities and educational institutions around the world to make science more clear and accessible. Regular collaborators include Massive Science and Science-Practice. His illustrations won the NSF Science Visualization Challenge (2015), and have been featured in exhibitions such as the Society of Illustrators Comics and Cartoon Art Annual Exhibition (2015) and STEAM Within the Panels at the AAAS Art gallery (2017).

    In 2016, Matteo joined Columbia University as a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, where he investigates the role of ‘visual narratives’ in science communication. Working with science journalists, educators, and cognitive neuroscientists, he aims to understand how these tools may affect the public perception of science and increase scientific literacy. If you want to know more about this project, please visit

    Project Title: Visual Narratives for Science Communication
  • Lan Li is a historian of the body and filmmaker. She received her PhD in Science, Technology, and Society Studies at MIT in 2016. There, she explored a comparative history of body mapping among practitioners in China and Britain throughout the twentieth century. 

    As a Presidential Scholar, Lan focuses on developing a comparative history of numbness. She is particularly interested in how representations of peripheral sensation through hand-drawn maps cohered and conflicted with different perceptions of health and disease. Her collaborations include projects on nerve damage, aging, and pain.

    Lan is also a filmmaker, producing short films about medicine and health among immigrant communities in the United States. During her free time, Lan plays the guzheng, a 21-stringed Chinese zither. 

    Project Title: Comparative Histories of Touch and Numbness

  • Julia Hyland Bruno is an ethologist interested in behavioral development, in particular, that of social animals -- such as songbirds, or humans -- that learn how to communicate with one another. In 2017, she received her PhD in Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience from the City University of New York, where she studied the rhythmic patterning of zebra finch vocal learning. Her present and planned research is focused on the social dynamics of this developmental process.  How is a learned communication system transmitted across generations? How do competitive or accommodating social interactions affect the vocal culture of a group? As a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Julia will develop an interdisciplinary research program, incorporating social science and computer music, that will open these questions to experimental study. 

    Project Title: Learning to Improvise? Using Social Songbirds to Study Vocal Culture in the Lab
  • Federica Coppola is a criminal lawyer specializing in neurolaw. As a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, she investigates how findings from social and affective neuroscience about the role of emotions in prosocial behavior might be used to inform criminal justice approaches and correctional interventions, with a special focus on offenders with socioaffective impairments. Federica received a PhD in Law from the European University Institute in 2017. In her doctoral dissertation, she developed a general theory of culpability informed by neuroscientific insights into emotions, moral decision-making and antisocial behavior. In 2016, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and at the Penn Center for Neuroscience and Society. She has been a lecturer at the School of Law and Neuroscience at the University of Pavia, as well as a guest lecturer in criminology at the University of Passau Law School. Federica is the first Robert A. Burt Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience.

    Project Title: Reinventing Criminal Justice with Social and Affective Neuroscience: A Study on the Implications of an Emotion-Oriented Theory of Culpability for Adjudication and Punishment
  • David Barack is a neuroscientist and philosopher. His neuroscientific investigations target the neural circuits of foraging decisions in humans and nonhuman primates. He is particularly interested in how primates search for information, how information is encoded in the brain independently of reward, and how information guides inferences about the world. His philosophical research regards the conceptual foundations of cognitive neuroscience, especially the underlying dynamical basis for cognition. He is also interested in how foraging models from biology might provide novel normative grounds for reasoning and whether foraging models can adequately describe how primates reason in complex environments. David completed his PhD in philosophy in 2014 while at Duke University and was a postdoctoral researcher in the departments of neuroscience and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Project Title: Reasoning as Foraging
  • Clare McCormack is a researcher whose work focuses on women's psychological health in pregnancy and the peri-partum, and how these experiences are affected by maternal stress and trauma. She received her PhD in Public Health in 2016 from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, where she studied alcohol use during pregnancy and infant cognitive development. Clare is the second Robert A. Burt Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience.

    Project Title: Becoming a Mother in the Context of Trauma: Neuroplasticity and the Lived Experience of Women
  • Ann-Sophie Barwich is a philosopher and historian of science with a specialization in biology and chemistry. Her work is on current and past developments in olfactory research. She received her PhD at Exeter (Egenis/The Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences) under the supervision of John Dupré in 2013, before taking up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research. Her thesis examined classification and modeling strategies through which scientists have linked odors to a material basis (botanical, chemical, molecular-biological, neurophysiological), and her postdoctoral project concerned the role of methodology in measurement and wet-lab discovery. As a Scholar in the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience program, she focuses on the role of ‘research routines’ in scientific training and practice.

    Project Title: From the Air to the Brain: Laboratory Routines in Olfaction
  • Andrew Goldman draws on his training as a concert pianist and composer to study the cognition and neuroscience of musical improvisation. Andrew’s experiments explore how degrees of improvisation experience in musicians and dancers affect sound perception and motor planning. His research helps define what improvisation is, how people learn to do it, and the role improvisation plays in daily life. Together with colleagues, he recently has found that experienced improvisers categorize musical harmonies more according to function than a specific sound, which aids their ability to use those harmonies flexibly when they improvise. Understanding the differences in knowledge between experienced improvisers and experienced musicians who do not improvise can help us understand creative ways of knowing. Before joining the PSSN program, Andrew received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2015. While there he wrote Science! The Musical, which premiered in 2014 and was recently produced in New York City.

    Project Title: Neuroscience and Musical Improvisation
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