College faculty members participate in new trans-disciplinary center

by Anne Reynolds

College faculty members participate in new trans-disciplinary center

College of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty will contribute to one of George Mason University’s first trans-disciplinary centers for advanced study, one of only two such centers chartered in a university grant competition. The Center for Adaptive Systems for Brain-Body Interactions (CASBBI), led by Drs. Siddhartha Sikdar (Krasnow Institute, electrical and computer engineering), Jim Thompson (psychology), and Lynn Gerber (health administration and policy), has been selected for base funding by a team led by the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President David Wu.

Mason’s transdisciplinary centers reflect the university's intent to establish new venues for promoting research and discovery, especially around questions that cross conventional disciplinary boundaries. In order to be considered for funding, each center was required to present a compelling long-term vision for informing and enriching Mason’s education and translation research programs and rely upon the complementary expertise of multi-departmental or multi-unit faculty teams.

The CASBBI was one of two teams selected for funding during the initial competition, which drew 26 proposals; the Office of the Provost also selected the Quantum Materials Center led by Drs. Patrick Vora (physics), Qiliang Li (electrical and computer engineering), and James Glasbrenner (computational and data sciences).

The Center for Adaptive Systems for Brain-Body Interactions seeks to serve individuals with physical or psychosocial disabilities, with a particular focus on chronic pain, movement impairment, autism spectrum disorders, and addiction. These widespread disabilities pose significant costs—emotional and economic--to affected individuals, their families, and society. Moreover, current approaches have not effectively managed their complexity or offered workable solutions.

Drawing upon trans-disciplinary research from Mason’s Departments of Bioengineering, Psychology, Health Administration and Policy, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Physics, the CASBBI team hopes to improve the function and quality of life of affected people by identifying disability as at once biological, psychological, and social, and seeking to address it across the dynamic relations among these three areas. The team comprises representatives from four of Mason’s colleges and schools: Volgenau School of Engineering, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Heath and Human Services, and the College of Science. They bring research expertise in multiscale imaging, multiscale neuromodulation, human movement analysis, and human machine interaction.

As part of its submission for funding, the team considered ways to operationalize teamwork, how to best incorporate graduate students into the work of the center, and how to take advantage of the institutional opportunities available within the Commonwealth. It has established milestones for the success of its work, measured in specific metrics of success, and thought through the team’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Robert Matz, interim dean of the college, is gratified that the team will be able to make such a meaningful contribution. "The CASBBI recognizes that each of us is a body, a mind, and a part of a larger social whole,” he said. “It is a great example of the way specialized scholars can come together to create new knowledge that solves problems requiring an understanding of the multiple dimensions of human life. I am so pleased at our college's involvement in this effort, and look forward to hearing about the fruits of their research."