Thompson and Sikdar receive Major Research Instrumentation funding from the National Science Foundation

A functional MRI will be next in a series of Mason research investments

by Kristin Leonato

Thompson and Sikdar receive Major Research Instrumentation funding from the National Science Foundation
James Thompson, associate professor in the Department of Psychology

James Thompson got some great news in September. The news has been quickly rippling across campus because it signifies the continued research success at Mason, how far we’ve come and what’s possible in the future. On September 13, 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a $1.6 million dollar grant to the Department of Psychology’s James Thompson and the Volgenau School of Engineering’s Siddhartha Sikdar, the principal investigators on a proposal for the “Acquisition of a 3-T MRI for Integrative Brain-Body Imaging.”

The award has been funded through the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program, which aims to “increase access to shared scientific and engineering instruments for research and research training, … and provide organizations with opportunities to acquire major instrumentation that supports the research and research training goals of the organization.”

This highly competitive grant is a rarity given its large amount and because it supports the purchase of vital research equipment that will be used in multiple research projects for years to come.  That the NSF has awarded not just one, but two Major Research Instrumentation grants to Mason this year demonstrates the broader recognition of the high quality and quantity of significant research produced by Mason faculty and students in a variety of disciplines. A second grant of $450,000 was awarded to Kenneth De Jong, James Kinter, and Huzefa Rangwala for additional research computing infrastructure.

The acquisition of a high performance 3 Tesla or functional, whole body, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner also means a lot for the next generation of Mason research. A functional MRI —or fMRI —allows researchers to capture detailed images of the brain, body, and how they work together.  Specifically, Mason investigators plan to further their study of the relationship between the brain and body and how this relationship may be altered by acute or chronic stress, pain, or trauma.

While the news of the award was especially exciting for the college and the Volgenau School of Engineering, the fMRI will ultimately support the research and training of students in more than eight disciplines, in five separate schools and colleges at Mason. This type of cross-cutting, interdisciplinary research is something Mason does extremely well. An fMRI positioned as next in a series of Mason research investments means the best is still yet to come.