Alfredo Fontanini, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior, has been named by President Barack Obama as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the United States government to science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. He is one of 85 researchers to receive the award this year.
Fontanini’s research focuses on the neuroscience of taste by studying regions of the brain that are involved in the processing and perception of taste and emotions (Fontanini talks about his research).
“No bite of food tastes the same way twice,” said Fontanini. “Mood, emotions, context, hunger, and expectations have a major impact in determining the way we perceive sensory stimuli. Our research involves studying how expectation affects the way our brain responds to gustatory stimuli. The goal is to understand how much of what we sense is determined by our expectations and how much is due to the actual stimulus.”
The PECASE was established in 1996 by President Clinton and are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. The recipients are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.
“Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s economic strength and global leadership,” said President Obama. “I am confident that these individuals, who have shown such tremendous promise so early in their careers, will go on to make breakthroughs and discoveries that will continue to move our nation forward in the years ahead.”
“Alfredo’s work on how we perceive physical stimuli, such as my favorite taste, chocolate, is precisely what our neurobiology program is designed to achieve, a thorough understanding of the function of the brain and what contributes to the mind,'” said Kenneth Kaushansky, Senior Vice President, Health Sciences and Dean, School of Medicine. “That his work has been recognized with a prestigious PECASE award makes all of us at Stony Brook proud and confirms our faith in his potential to make a huge impact on health and disease.”
“I am extremely proud of Dr. Fontanini in receiving this prestigious award,” said Lorna W. Role, Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. “The PECASE is a terrific jump start for Dr. Fontanini, who is already on an exponential rise in the field of neuroscience. His work on gustatory circuits and taste perception is truly groundbreaking.”
A graduate of the University of Brescia Medical School in Italy, Fontanini received a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the same institution in 2003. After postdoctoral fellowships at Brandeis University, he joined the faculty of Stony Brook University.
From 2003 to 2005, he was a Sloan-Swartz Fellow for Theoretical Neurobiology at Brandeis. In 2009, he became a Klingenstein Fellow, and in early 2010, he received the Ajinomoto Award for Young Investigators in Gustation. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Association for Chemoreception Sciences.