Institute for cyberScience co-hire wins early-career NIH award


UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. — Xiao Liu, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State and a co-hire of the university’s Institute for CyberScience (ICS), has received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pathway to Independence Award. This award supports postdoctoral researchers and early-career professors as they build their research programs.

Liu’s proposal, “Neural Basis of Resting-state Functional Connectivity,” was submitted through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Through the award, NIH will support this project with $750,000 over the next three years.

The project focuses on methods for exploring the workings of the human brain. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and other imaging and data mining techniques, Liu is able to study how different parts of the brain behave when not engaged in an explicit task—what neurologists term the “resting state.”

Many fMRI researchers examine the average of resting-state brain activity over the course of a scanning session. By tracking what happens in the brain at various points throughout a scanning session, Liu has identified patterns of brain activity which examining the averages would miss, providing new information on the functioning of the brain at rest.

“The brain remains surprisingly active even without sensory input,” said Liu. “This new approach to resting-state fMRI scans should provide us with a more nuanced understanding of how different brain regions work together.”

Liu’s methods have applications for understanding how the brain uses energy in the resting state, as well as for diagnosing neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.

As his research progresses, Liu plans to use ICS’s Advanced CyberInfrastructure (ICS-ACI) to store fMRI data. The brain scans and data sets that he analyzes occupy many terabytes of storage.

“This award recognizes the impactful and transformational work being performed by Professor Liu and other ICS faculty,” said ICS Director Jenni Evans. “I’m proud to provide Dr. Liu with the tools and support he needs to continue his research, and I look forward to the discoveries he will make.”

Liu received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Minnesota. Before joining Penn State in 2016, he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center at NIH.


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Julian Fung

Xiao LiuXiao Liu

“The brain remains surprisingly active even without sensory input. This new approach to resting-state fMRI scans should provide us with a more nuanced understanding of how different brain regions work together.”
—Xiao Liu



The Department of Biomedical Engineering administers the undergraduate major in biomedical engineering, and is a part of the university-wide Intercollege Graduate Degree Program, offering both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Bioengineering. Our work combines traditional engineering principles with medicine and technology for the betterment of human health and society. 

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