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William Bialek, PhD Named Chief Scientific Advisor at the Swartz Foundation

Leading Scientist to Head Research Funding Efforts of Neuroscience Foundation

Lloyd Harbor, NY — July 9, 2014 — The Swartz Foundation, a leading private research foundation supporting the study of theoretical and computational neuroscience celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, today announced the appointment of William Bialek, PhD to the position of Chief Scientific Advisor.

Professor William Bialek is the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics, and a member of the multidisciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, at Princeton University. In addition, he serves as Visiting Presidential Professor of Physics at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, where he is helping to launch an Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Bialek received the Society for Neuroscience Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience in 2013.

Dr. Jerry Swartz, Founder and Chairman of the Swartz Foundation, said “There are few neuroscientists who have the deep cross-disciplinary expertise of Bill Bialek. With his background, we are certain he will provide excellent leadership for the Swartz Foundation programs.”

Professor Bialek’s research interests have ranged over a wide variety of theoretical problems at the interface of physics and biology, from the dynamics of individual biological molecules to learning and cognition. Best known for contributions to our understanding of coding and computation in the brain, Bialek and collaborators have shown that aspects of brain function can be described as essentially optimal strategies for adapting to the complex dynamics of the world, making the most of the available signals in the face of fundamental physical constraints and limitations. More recently he has followed these ideas of optimization into the early events of embryonic development, and the processes by which all cells make decisions about when to read out the information stored in their genes. His hope is that these diverse biological phenomena may be understandable through some unifying theoretical principles, in the physics tradition.

Prof. Bialek succeeds Dr. Hirsh Cohen who has held the position of Science Director at the Foundation since 2003. Dr. Cohen will continue his contribution to the Foundation in a consultant role.

“I have enjoyed watching the tremendous contribution to theoretical neuroscience that we have achieved at the Swartz Foundation since 2003 and before that at the Sloan Foundation,” said Dr. Cohen. “We see in the unfolding of the new national BRAIN initiative that theory and computation have earned an important and useful place in the field of neuroscience and we are now certain they will continue to do so.”

“Hirsh has been the cornerstone of our scientific research pursuits,” said Swartz. “His contributions to the field, from his efforts at the Sloan Foundation on through the Swartz Foundation, helped to establish the direction of the computational research and post-doc work supported by the Foundation. We are indebted to Hirsh for his stewardship of the Swartz Foundation.”

These appointments were announced at the Foundation’s Sloan-Swartz 2014 Annual Meeting in Seattle on June 26, co-hosted this year by the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the University of Washington.

The Swartz Foundation was established by Dr. Jerome Swartz in 1994 to explore the application of physics, mathematics and engineering principles to neuroscience as a path to better understanding the mind/brain relationship. The Swartz Foundation supports theoretical neuroscience research at 11 centers: Brandeis University, California Institute of Technology, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Columbia University, Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, University of California at San Francisco, University of California at San Diego and Yale University. In other research support activities, the Swartz Foundation sponsors a wide variety of individual projects using quantitative approaches to understand how the brain works.

For more information, contact the Swartz Foundation.

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