New Jersey scholar joins QBME for year-long research opportunity

The U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board recently announced that Casey Diekman, associate professor of mathematics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), is a recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award for Mathematical Biology.

This Autumn, Diekman joined the Quantitative Biology and Medicine @ Exeter group,  performing research at the University of Exeter as part of a project on “Multiscale Modeling of Circadian Rhythms”. He joins nearly 800 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research and/or provide expertise abroad for the 2019-2020 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Casey says:

I am honoured to participate in a program with such a rich history of promoting intercultural understanding and global academic exchange. This award will give me the opportunity to work with some of the UK’s leading experts in computational neuroscience and form new long-term international collaborations.

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as record of service and demonstrated leadership in their respective fields.

Arriving as a faculty member within NJIT’s Department of Mathematical Sciences in 2013, Diekman has led research that applies mathematical modeling, numerical simulation, and dynamical systems analysis to investigate mechanisms underlying daily circadian rhythms that are tied to the sleep/wake cycle, and the disruption of rhythmicity associated with certain pathological conditions.

Casey has developed detailed models of the electrical activity of neurons in the brain’s master circadian clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). These models have made counterintuitive predictions about how the brain generates a timing signal to control daily rhythms in physiology and behaviour.

Through the Fulbright program, Casey is hosted by the Living Systems Institute, where he will continue his research by collaborating with biologists, mathematicians and computer scientists to develop new models of the master circadian clock that coordinates daily biological rhythms.

Diekman is collaborating with the laboratory of Dr Mino Belle, an electrophysiologist at the University of Exeter Medical School, to study how the electrical activity and membrane excitability of SCN neurons is linked to circadian rhythms in gene expression produced by intracellular molecular clocks. This phenomenon is difficult to study through wet-lab experiments alone due to the drastically different spatial and temporal scales involved, from transcriptional regulation inside the cell nucleus on a time scale of hours to networks of neurons with membrane dynamics on a millisecond time scale. Multiscale modeling and computer simulation can connect data obtained from experiments at each scale to gain insight into how the circadian timekeeping system operates as a whole. Ultimately these models will be used to help understand how the clock synchronises to the daily light-dark cycle under normal conditions, and what goes wrong when the clock is disrupted due to night shift work, old age, or neurodegenerative disease.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.  The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State.  Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has given more than 390,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds and fields the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Fulbrighters address critical global challenges in all disciplines, while building relationships, knowledge, and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the United States.  Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 59 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 84 who have received Pulitzer Prizes, and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.

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