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Assistant Professor of Biology Tamily Weissman-Unni Wins Major NSF Award

May 25, 2016

The pursuit of a better understanding of how the brain grows and functions is the goal of Tamily Weissman-Unni’s research laboratory. Now Weissman has been named a recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER award, an $823,000 grant that will support her research and teaching over the next five years. 

Here’s how a feature story in Lewis & Clark’s Chronicle magazine describes Weissman’s research:

Weissman-Unni makes diagrams and maps of neural circuitry within the humble 1-inch-long zebrafish. More specifically, she wants to understand the neural network, down to the level of individual neurons—the cells in the brain that transmit information much like transistors do in computer chips. Her pictures of these technicolor brains, which show individual nerve cells aglow in a spectrum of fluorescent colors, can help explain how neural connections form in zebrafish—uncovering principles likely to be directly relevant to the human brain.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research. In recognizing Weissman, the NSF selection committee cited her comprehensive inclusion of undergraduates in her work.

“Undergraduates have played and will keep playing an integral role in my research program, from crafting lab protocols, to designing experiments, and writing manuscripts,” explains Weissman. “This award helps to validate just how significantly undergrads can contribute to original research.”

One of her students, Leah Weston BA ’14, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, will begin medical school this fall at Johns Hopkins University. She says, “In teaching me to become a scientist, Tamily gave me an unusual amount of autonomy in pursuing research as an undergraduate. I can say with 100% confidence that I would not be heading to my top choice medical school were it not for the opportunities that she gave me in her lab and for her mentorship and belief in me.”

Weissman praises her department colleagues and Lewis & Clark’s sponsored research office for their unwavering support and guidance. She’s also quick to acknowledge the support she received in establishing her research lab, in particular, early funding from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.  

Weissman is the second Lewis & Clark faculty member to receive the coveted CAREER award. She credits Biology Department colleague Associate Professor Greta Binford, who won the award in 2006, for inspiring confidence in the possibility of her own application.  

To learn more about Weissman’s lab, visit

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