Vanessa Ruta, assistant professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University, has been awarded a 2012 Sloan Research Fellowship. Ruta will receive $50,000 to further her research on how neural circuits are modified by experience.
The two-year fellowships, which have been awarded annually since 1955, are given to early-career researchers who show promise as the next generation of scientific leaders. The prizes are given by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant making institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan, Jr., then-president and CEO of the General Motors Corporation, the foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economic performance. Over 4,200 fellowships have been awarded since they were established; Ruta is one of 126 scientists to receive the award in 2012.
Ruta, who was awarded the fellowship in the neuroscience category, studies the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, an animal that displays a rich repertoire of innate and learned behaviors governed by a brain of only approximately 100,000 neurons. A goal of the lab is to exploit the numerical simplicity of the fly nervous system to trace neural circuits from the detection of sensory cues all the way through to implementation of a motor response. By illuminating these pathways, Ruta aims to discover how these circuits are modified by learning to reflect prior individual experience.
Ruta joined Rockefeller as assistant professor in 2011 and was named a Pew Scholar and a McKnight Scholar in 2012; she also received a Sinsheimer Scholarship in 2012. Sixteen Rockefeller scientists have been awarded Sloan fellowships, including Gaby Maimon in 2012.