Mark Blumberg, F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor in the University of Iowa Department of Psychology, has been honored with a MERIT Award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) for his research on the function of sleep in neural development, becoming only the second faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to ever receive this award. Blumberg has a joint appointment in the UI Department of Biology.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) founded the MERIT—Method to Extend Research in Time—Awards program in 1987 to provide long-term support to researchers with impressive records of scientific achievement in promising research areas, sparing them from having to constantly devote time and staff resources to applying for research grants. NIH-funded researchers must be nominated for the MERIT Award by their funding NIH institute. Less than five percent of principal investigators with major research grants are selected to receive it.
Blumberg, who directs a behavioral neuroscience lab in the Department of Psychology, notes, “Given how hard it is to get grants in this funding environment, it’s a huge relief to know that I will have ten years of continuous support. I’m grateful that I’ll be able to retain all of my lab personnel, maintain the lab's productivity, and also have the freedom to explore new research directions.”
Blumberg’s lab currently comprises 10 researchers, including UI graduate students and undergraduates. One of those researchers is Greta Sokoloff, a research specialist and co-investigator on the newly funded grant.
“We’re studying the role that sleep-related ‘twitches’ play in the development of the nervous system and how we learn to use and move our bodies,” says Blumberg.
He and his research team recently discovered that twitches are unique among behaviors, with neural processing unlike that of any other physical movement. Over the next 10 years, he hopes to trace the circuitry in the brain that produces and responds to these movements and also expand his research to explore the possible contributions of these movements to health-related processes across the lifespan.
Blumberg is a member of the UI’s Delta Center and is completing a term as editor-in-chief of the APA journal Behavioral Neuroscience. He is the author of three books of general science including, most recently, Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution (Oxford University Press, 2009). He is also a co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Developmental Behavioral Neuroscience (Oxford University Press, 2010).
Learn more about Blumberg’s research here.