York psychology prof awarded 2010 Sloan Research Fellowship

York psychology Professor Shayna Rosenbaum has been awarded a 2010 Sloan Research Fellowship, which she says will help take her work on episodic memory to a new level, not otherwise possible at this early stage in her career.

“The award provides me and my students with the flexibility to continue a line of research that might be considered to fall slightly beyond the boundaries of traditional memory research,” says Rosenbaum.

“The primary focus of my research has been on the nature and function of episodic memory and its relationship to other types of memory. It has implications for other aspects of cognition, such as future planning, decision-making and inferring other people’s mental experiences, that are not normally considered to be part of memory, and which I hope to study along with my students.”

Left: Shayna Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum studies three general types of memory – episodic, semantic and spatial – and how they relate to one another. Episodic memory, the ability to re-experience the details of personal life events, is the type Rosenbaum has focused on most recently, particularly how neural damage affects it. Semantic memory is knowledge about the world that is not tied to any one event, and spatial memory helps people find their way in any given environment.

Rosenbaum takes an innovative approach to memory research by combining neuroimaging methods, like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), with neuropsychological testing of patients who have damage to the medial temporal lobes and prefrontal cortex. In this way, she is able to investigate how memory for personal experiences and the experiences of other people are organized in the brain, how such representations break down following neurological disease and how other aspects of cognition are affected by their loss.

“It’s an examination of questions that are of interest to those studying neuroscience as well as evolutionary theory, human development, behavioural economics, clinical populations and general issues relating to human nature and consciousness,” says Rosenbaum.

She was one of 118 outstanding early career scientists, mathematicians and economists selected for a Sloan Research Fellowship by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The winners are faculty members at 56 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada who are conducting research at the frontiers of physics, chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics and neuroscience.

“The Sloan Research Fellowship is meaningful in that an international body of scientists, both within and outside the field of neuroscience, has recognized that research aiming to better understand memory and how it is organized in the brain might be both clinically and theoretically important,” says Rosenbaum, who teaches in York’s Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health and the Neuroscience Graduate Diploma Program. She has also been an associate scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest since 2005.

Her work is supported by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation and a New Investigator Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The Sloan Research Fellowships have been awarded since 1955, initially in only three scientific fields – physics, chemistry and mathematics. Since then, 38 Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in their fields.

Grants of $50,000 for a two-year period are administered by each Fellow’s institution. Once chosen, Sloan Research Fellows are free to pursue whatever lines of inquiry are of most interest to them and they are permitted to employ Fellowship funds in a wide variety of ways to further their research aims.

For more information, visit the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Web site or York’s Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Web site.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant-making institution that supports original research and broad-based education in neuroscience, technology, engineering, mathematics and economic performance.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer