Math May Help Cure Brain Diseases
Kopell elected to London Mathematical Society| From Commonwealth | By Rich Barlow
Nancy Kopell, winner of a MacArthur “genius” award, is now a member of Einstein’s old math society. Photo by Vernon Doucette
Nancy Kopell’s research into the intersection of numbers and neurons earned her a “genius” award from the MacArthur Foundation in 1990. Now that same research has put her in a club to which Einstein belonged.
Kopell, a College of Arts & Sciences mathematics professor, has been elected an honorary member of the 146-year-old London Mathematical Society (LMS) by the group’s governing council. The accolade cites her work “on the neural networks governing rhythmic motor activities in animals and her ongoing work on the brain dynamics underlying various cognitive factors.” (The LMS voted Einstein an honorary member in 1924.)
The roughly 100 billion neurons in the human brain behave in patterns governed by the same physical laws as, say, molecules that “condense from gas to liquid, or freeze from liquid to solid,” as one science writer puts it. Kopell says her work seeks to discover “how the brain produces its rhythmic dynamics, how it uses them for cognition, and how the symptoms in neurological diseases are related to pathological changes in brain rhythms. I’m especially interested in Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.”
For the moment, the work is basic science, Kopell says, “but it has strong implications for the etiology of disease and, perhaps in the future, for novel interventions.”
Since 1871, the 2,300-member LMS has elected just one or two honorary members annually. “It is a very special recognition,” says Kopell, one of BU’s William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professors, the University’s highest faculty honor, and a founder and director of the Center for Biodynamics. “The list of previous awardees is extremely impressive, and I’m extremely honored to be in that company.”
Kopell, who has a PhD from Berkeley, came to BU in 1986.