Dartmouth-Led Research on How Attention Works in the Brain Receives NSF Award

A collaborative research project on the neural basis of attention, to be led by Peter Ulric Tse, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth, has been awarded $6 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project will strive to unravel how attention works in the brain. 

The project establishes a consortium of 14 neuroscientists from four universities: Dartmouth College and Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, N.H.; Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.; Brown University in Providence, R.I.; and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Researchers will aim to develop a greater understanding of focused attention, which is critical to countless daily tasks, from operating machinery to maintaining safety in high security settings. The goal of the project is to develop a unified model of attention that applies across multiple domains, from single cells to large brain circuits.

The consortium expects to establish lasting collaborations in academia, build industrial partnerships, expand the neuroscience workforce, and extend educational opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Plans include hosting a summer conference for women in neuroscience and providing educational opportunities for youths in the participating institutions’ labs.

“Paying attention is central to almost everything we consciously do in life,” says Tse. “Understanding the brain systems that afford us the ability to attend, will help us understand not only cases where those systems are damaged but also understand how best to foster attentional ability in normally functioning brains. As far as I know, we will be the only consortium of scientists tackling this question.”  

Dartmouth’s award was among 11 awards totaling $55M announced by the NSF today. All aim to build research capacity to address either fundamental questions about the brain or to develop new innovations at the intersection of food, energy, and water systems. The awards support a coalition-based approach to research, an initiative through the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) as part of its Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-2 investment strategy. RII Track-2 builds national research strength by initiating collaborations across institutions in two or more EPSCoR jurisdictions. These four-year awards support 27 institutions in 18 eligible jurisdictions.  

“These awards represent a tremendous value for the scientific community, as they foster research into some of the most pressing issues facing U.S. society while simultaneously supporting collaborative research programs and workforce development,” said Denise Barnes, head of NSF EPSCoR. “Whether by expanding our knowledge of the brain, or by improving how our water, food and energy systems work efficiently together, these projects hold the promise of transforming our daily lives.”

The RII Track-2 awards support research while also requiring award recipients to invest in developing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce -- particularly early-career faculty researchers.

The Dartmouth-led consortium of neuroscientists include: Peter Tse, Jeremy Manning, Patrick Cavanagh and Alireza Soltani at Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences; Barbara C. Jobst and Farran Briggs at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine; Charles Gray, Behrad Noudoost and James Mazer at Montana State University; David Sheinberg, Barry Connors and Theresa Desrochers at Brown University; and Gideon Caplovitz and Marian Berryhill at the University of Nevada, Reno. 

Peter Tse, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth and principal investigator of the project, is available to comment at: Peter.U.Tse@dartmouth.edu.