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Lilianne Mujica-Parodi Receives Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award

Professor Thomas Woodson of the Department of Technology and SocietyAfter an extremely competitive peer-review process by the Institute of International Education/Council for International Exchange of Scholars (IIE/CIES), and approved by both the United States and Israeli governments, Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook University, has been awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award for 2021-2022.

As a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar, Professor Mujica-Parodi will be one of 40-50 U.S. researchers/teachers selected annually  to conduct cutting edge work abroad with the largest and most diverse international educational exchange program. Fulbright Scholar awardees are devoted to increasing mutual understanding between people of the U.S. and people of other countries. Yi-Xian Qin, Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering said, “It is inspiring to see Professor Mujica-Parodi’s innovative research and engineering approaches potentially impact our understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of brain-based disorders.

Mujica-Parodi will be conducting research at the Weizmann Institute of Science ’s Department of Physics of Complex Systems in Rohovot Israel, an institution with a long history of investigation and discovery rooted in a mission of advancing science for the benefit of humanity . The Weizmann Institute is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary basic research centers in the natural and exact sciences. “This is a well-deserved honor for Professor Mujica-Parodi ,” Qin shared, “she is an excellent researcher in the field of computational neurobiology and the development of advanced brain imaging techniques. She devotes her enthusiasm and energy to biomedical research, students, the university, and beyond.”

Mujica-Parodi’s Fulbright Award will focus on testing how ant colonies reorganize their social structures as a function of fluctuations in the food supply. Essentially treating the ant colony as a "living economic model" of resource allocation under constraint, she and her collaborators Professors Ofer Feinermann and Helmut Strey will test whether the degree of resource scarcity biologically biases a population towards different models of distribution. This problem has direct implications for Mujica-Parodi’s current research on a key component of brain aging: the gradual starvation of neurons as they lose their ability to metabolize glucose effectively (“hypometabolism”).  Her work thus far suggests that, as the brain ages, it reorganizes in an attempt to solve a similar "resource allocation under constraint" type problem. Working by analogy, using agent-based modeling (e.g., cellular automata) to identify the "rules" that govern network reorganization at the population scale, will assist her and the team in developing the mathematical tools required to do the same with human brains. 

As D irector of the Laboratory for Computational Neurodiagnostics , Mujica-Parodi ’s research focuses on the application of neuroimaging and neurodiagnostic applications which are related to neurological and psychiatric disorders. She has led or co-led over 26 research grants, in areas as diverse as neurology, psychiatry, neuroendocrinology, instrumentation and algorithm development, and now economics.

In 2017, Professor Mujica-Parodi’s team received significant funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation to embark upon a new and ambitious research direction, which in 2019 was then renewed and expanded with support from the National Science Foundation and the White House BRAIN Initiative “Frontiers” award. By leveraging expertise in basic and clinical neuroscience, neurology and endocrinology, applied mathematics, statistical physics, and computer science, she and her team have been tackling one of neurobiology's most fundamental unanswered questions: What are the "rules" by which the brain self-organizes in response to resource constraints?   

As a result of this most recent research, Mujica-Parodi proposed to focus her Fulbright research on, From Cells to Populations: Organizing Principles Driving Resource Allocation Under Constraint. Her work over the next year will be directed at developing a computational model of of how brain networks reorganize to conserve fuel, developing intuitions for how to approach the problem by visualizing it using an analogous system at the population-scale.

Fotis Sotiropoulos, Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences shared, “We are extremely proud of Lily’s accomplishments, and grateful for her contributions as an esteemed member of our faculty and research team. I am confident that the Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award will not only enhance her research but create important global impact.”


- Daria Carioscia