Cognitive neuroscientist to lead Alabama Life Research Institute at University of Alabama

Cognitive neuroscientist to lead Alabama Life Research Institute at University of Alabama
Dr. Sharlene Newman, a distinguished neuroscience researcher and Alabama native, will be the first full-time executive director of the interdisciplinary Alabama Life Research Institute at the University of Alabama. (contributed)

After a national search, a noteworthy researcher in cognitive neuroscience will lead the Alabama Life Research Institute as executive director.

As the first full-time head of ALRI, Dr. Sharlene D. Newman will provide a coherent vision for collaborative life research that embraces the full range of disciplines represented on campus while strengthening the University of Alabama’s research portfolio and profile.

“Life research is a signature research theme at UA and needs teams from across campus to address major opportunities and challenges,” said Dr. Kevin Whitaker, UA executive vice president and provost. “Dr. Newman has demonstrated the ability to bring together and lead cross-disciplinary teams, so we are so pleased she will be joining us.”

ALRI was established two years ago to serve as a focal point for interdisciplinary bio-psychosocial research that seeks to investigate the human condition at all levels, from the molecular to the environmental. An umbrella organization, ALRI facilitates collaboration across campus with other institutions, government agencies, community-based organization and the health care and biotechnology industries.

“We firmly believe Dr. Newman has the vision, experience and skill set to be highly successful as the executive director of the Alabama Life Research Institute,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, UA vice president for research and economic development. “We will fully support her vision to ensure leading-edge research into the human condition thrives at the university.”

University of Alabama students conducting research into genetic causes of Alzheimer’s disease include, from left, Madeline Vaji, Samuel Scopel and Ryan Tuckey. UA’s Alabama Life Research Institute involves interdisciplinary research teams from across campus to do bio-psychosocial research that seeks to investigate the human condition at all levels. The 2-year-old program now has its first full-time leader. (University of Alabama)

A native of Abbeville, Alabama, Newman comes to UA after more than 14 years at Indiana University, where she was a Class of 1948 Herman B. Wells Endowed Professor in psychological and brain sciences as well as associate vice provost for undergraduate education.

“I see a great opportunity for the ALRI to make a significant impact on the health and well-being of the state of Alabama, and to become a leader in life science research by leveraging the expertise present in multiple departments across campus,” Newman said.

Newman’s research focuses on understanding human brain functioning using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Her work examines language processing, executive function and problem solving, substance addictions, psychopathology and MRI methodology.

She has helped clarify functional distinctions between brain regions involved in sentence comprehension, strengthening earlier interpretations of the functional roles assigned to different brain regions and providing strong empirical support for a particular theoretical model of sentence comprehension.

Among the first scientists to use neuroimaging to study complex language function, Newman is a founding member of the IU Imaging Research Facility and later served as its director, where she developed collaborations investigating schizophrenia, the impact of cannabis and other substances on brain function, and concussions and brain health.

She later became the director of the Program in Neuroscience within IU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Newman also chaired the Diversity Advancement Committee in her department, initiating regular gatherings for the department’s minority students to discuss concerns and opportunities.

The University of Alabama is responsible for a wide-ranging variety of research, and the Alabama Life Research Institute was created to increase collaboration among disciplines to improve the health and well-being of Alabamians. Here, student Madeline Vaji takes part in research into genetic causes of Alzheimer’s disease. (University of Alabama)

During her time in Indiana, she collaborated across campus with clinical scientists in her own department along with researchers in speech and hearing sciences, vision science, the media school and second language studies.

Newman earned her master’s and doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham after finishing her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University.

After graduating from UAB in 1999, she worked as a postdoctoral associate and adjunct assistant professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University until 2004. She joined IU that year as an assistant professor, becoming associate professor in 2011 and a full professor in 2017. She was tapped as an associate vice provost in 2016.

At UA, Newman holds a joint academic appointment in the department of psychology along with the department of electrical and computer engineering.

She replaces Dr. John E. Lochman, Saxon professor emeritus in psychology, who served as interim executive director.

“We are grateful to Dr. Lochman for his strong leadership of ALRI and moving life research forward at UA,” Mumper said. “He and the search committee accomplished outstanding work in identifying superb candidates and helping UA land the very best leader for life research.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

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