Bradley Dickerson, assistant professor and Kenan Honors Fellow in the department of biology in the College of Arts & Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been named a 2021 Searle Scholar. The honor supports groundbreaking research by exceptional young faculty.
Members of the new class of Searle Scholars pursue research in chemistry and the biomedical sciences. Each scholar receives an award of $300,000 in flexible funding to support research over the next three years.
This year, 191 applications were considered from nominations by 137 universities and research institutions. Fifteen new Searle Scholars were selected from across the country.
Their work will bring new perspectives to important questions in genetics, immunology, neurobiology and more.
Dickerson’s research is at the interface of neurobiology, biomechanics and behavior. His project is “Mapping the neural circuits that control precision timing in behavior.”
The goal of Dickerson’s proposal is to map the flow of sensory information that helps control rapid behaviors, specifically the aerial maneuvers of fruit flies. Flies perform flight turns in less time than it takes humans to blink, in part by using feedback from specialized organs known as the halteres. Although the halteres are crucial to flight — flies crash catastrophically without them — researchers know little about how the information they provide is processed or its specific downstream targets.
With this research, Dickerson’s lab will use cutting-edge imaging and genetic techniques to first determine how haltere input is organized in the central brain and then characterize the cells that receive this input. This integrative approach will reveal the general principles that govern the reciprocal relationship between sensory input and motor output and highlight the role of timing in the nervous system.
Milan Mrksich, scientific director for the Searle Scholars Program, noted that this year’s class is starting their independent careers in a challenging time but one that will see their work have a large impact for society.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, and the many ways it has interrupted our lives and work, we recognize the role that science played in rapidly making available new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, and we know that today’s research will better prepare us for the next pandemic,” Mrksich said.
Since 1981, 647 scientists have been named Searle Scholars. Eighty-five scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Twenty scholars have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grant,” and two scholars have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.