York neuroscientist awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

York University neuroscientist Denise Henriques is one of a handful of professors at Canadian universities to be awarded a prestigious 2009 Sloan Research Fellowship.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced its selection of outstanding early career researchers recently, recognizing 118 faculty members across the United States and Canada who are doing cutting-edge research in the sciences, mathematics and economics.

Henriques, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and the Centre for Vision Research, is studying two central aspects of sensorimotor function: how the brain represents and processes spatial information at different stages of an action, and how the brain integrates and interprets data from multiple senses to drive motor learning.

Right: Denise Henriques

Understanding these processes could have profound implications for many common and debilitating neurological disorders, and possibly for robotics, physical education and teleoperations such as remote surgery.

Henriques and her team study relatively simple sensorimotor tasks in healthy individuals and patients with Parkinson’s disease. They examine how vision and proprioception – our sense of where parts of our bodies are in relation to other parts – are used to control our eyes, head and arms. Some of the projects they are working on include:

  • Spacial processing for motor control – asking, "How does the brain represent spatial information at different stages of motor control?"
  • Cross-sensory calibration – asking, “When the brain recalibrates a motor system based on vision, does it also recalibrate other senses to make them consistent?”
  • Converting sensory information into learning – examining how sensory signals guide learning, for example, "If you see your arm misreaching, how does your brain know which arm muscles to activate more strongly and which to activate less?”

The Sloan Research Fellowships give researchers $50,000 over two years to pursue whichever lines of inquiry are of most interest to them. Since the Sloan Research Fellowship program began in 1955, 38 winners of Sloan Research Fellowships have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in their fields, and 14 have received the Fields Medal, the top honour in mathematics. Henriques also received an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario government in 2006.