Carnegie Mellon University
July 07, 2011

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon Announces Winners of Inaugural Rothberg Research Awards in Human Brain Imaging

Contact: Shilo Raube / 412-268-6094 /

Jonathan RothbergPITTSBURGH—The human brain is becoming less of a mystery thanks in part to groundbreaking work by world-renowned Carnegie Mellon University scientists. Now, new research awards made possible by Carnegie Mellon alumnus and trustee Jonathan M. Rothberg (E’85), founder of four genetics companies aimed at improving human health, will enable CMU scientists to make even more important neural discoveries.
The Rothberg Research Awards in Human Brain Imaging were established to allow CMU faculty, post-docs and students to creatively push research boundaries to further investigate how the brain thinks, learns and ages. The awards support CMU’s leadership in brain science and complement the university’s recently launched brain, mind and learning research initiative.
Michael J. Tarr, the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, said that “seed awards such as these, funded through the generosity of Jonathan Rothberg, are essential for fostering high-risk, interdisciplinary research and will help maintain CMU as a leader in the study of the mind and brain. It is only through continuing innovation that we will ultimately understand the neural basis of human thought and action, thereby enabling cures for diseases such as autism or Alzheimer’s.”
Seven recipients have been selected to share the $100,000 presented by the inaugural Rothberg Brain Research Awards.

  • James Bursley (HS’12), a psychology major, will focus on “unconscious learning” — how the brain learns and stores information without a person’s conscious awareness and control.
  • Amy Hubbard, the A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Modern Languages Department, will investigate how brain activity and speech production change when second language learners begin to produce speech-accompanying movement, such as facial expressions and hand gestures.
  • Guillaume Lematire, a postdoctoral research associate in the Psychology Department, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine how people identify the causes of sound in their environment.
  • Amanda Markey (HS’11), a social and decision sciences Ph.D. candidate, will study brain activation patterns related to boredom in an effort to broaden the understanding of how the brain processes and regulates the emotional state.
  • Richard Randall, assistant professor of music theory in the School of Music, will explore whether or not structural music features, such as mode, tempo and loudness, can be correlated with the elicitation of specific emotional responses in the brain.
  • Leila Wehbe (ML’11) and Alona Fyshe (ML’11), both machine learning Ph.D. candidates, will use machine learning, fMRI and magnetoencephalography (MEG) to model the neural processing of a word to understand how it is affected by semantic context.
Rothberg, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon, is best known for pioneering high-speed, massively parallel DNA sequencing. He founded 454 Life Sciences, a company that commercialized technologies for DNA sequencing after a health scare with his infant son made him realize how critical individual genome sequencing is to human health. He is currently the founder, chairman and CEO of Ion Torrent, a company that produces a simpler, faster and more cost-effective approach to sequencing. Last January, he was the focus of a Forbes magazine cover story titled “Gene Machine” for his Personal Genome Machine, a DNA desktop decoder.
Rothberg is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Connecticut Academy of Medical Science and Engineering.
For more information on brain, mind and learning research at Carnegie Mellon, visit

Pictured above is Jonathan M. Rothberg.