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Il Memming Park, PhD, Wins Stony Brook Discovery Prize

On April 23, a panel of prestigious judges at the 2019 Discovery Prize competition announced that  Il Memming Park, PhD, had emerged from a field of four early career research finalists, as winner of its $200,000 award in new funding.

Il Memming Park, PhD
Il Memming Park, PhD, presents his research topic — the Personalized Landscape of Unconsciousness, which he likened to a giant maze — during the 2019 Discovery Prize Competition.

Park is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the Renaissance School of Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University. The project he submitted, “Personalized Landscape of Unconsciousness,” aims to understand the brain at a systems level using neurotechnologies, and to develop advanced machine learning tools and build computational models to better define the boundaries around unconsciousness.

Il Memming Park, PhD; Samuel L. Stanley, MD; James H. Simon; Discovery Prize; Stony Brook University

 Il Memming Park, PhD, winner of the 2019 Discovery Prize with Stony Brook University President, Samuel L. Stanley, Jr, MD, and James H. Simon (center), one of the Discovery Prize judges.

“Our nation’s vitality and competitiveness depend on the many discoveries made at research universities,” said Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, President of Stony Brook University. “It is critical that we continue to support fundamental, curiosity-driven research and encourage our ambitious early-career faculty to pursue audacious ideas, which have the potential to transform lives and our understanding of the world around us.”

Park said he hopes to use his research to understand the brain and the dynamic patterns of activity linked to consciousness and unconsciousness.

“I am exhilarated by winning the Discovery Prize, and the award will help me get to the next stage of my research to develop the neurotechnology further and apply it to biological models of the brain,” he said. “I am looking forward to expanding collaborations on this research with colleagues in neurobiology, neurosurgery and other disciplines at Stony Brook University.”

The Discovery Prize is given biannually to a Stony Brook University faculty member in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines whose research project embraces risk and innovation and embodies the potential of discovery-driven research.

This year the Discovery Prize drew submissions from 20 early-career faculty members. The proposals were reviewed by a panel of SUNY Distinguished Professors who determined the four finalists. The other three finalists were Melanie Chiu, PhD, Department of Chemistry; Sandeep Mallipattu, School of Medicine, Division of Nephrology and Hypertension; and Ming-Nu Ngai, PhD, Department of Chemistry. The competition took place at the Charles B. Wang Center Theatre at Stony Brook University.

The winning proposal was chosen by a distinguished panel of judges including Nobel Laureate, Michael Brown, MD,  the W.A. (Monty) Moncrief Distinguished Chair in Cholesterol and Arteriosclerosis Research; Regental Professor and Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center;  Barry S. Coller, MD, David Rockefeller Professor of Medicine, Physician in Chief and Vice President for Medical Affairs at the Rockefeller University; and, James H. Simons, PhD, Chairman of the Simons Foundation; founder of Renaissance Technologies and former Chairman of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook University.  

The Discovery Prize was established in 2013 with a generous donation from the Stony Brook Foundation’s Board of Trustees as a way to advance pioneering scientific breakthroughs at a time when the primary source of support for basic research (i.e., the federal government) is dwindling. 

 Unique to the Discovery Fund Prize competition is its aim to further the art of effective science communication through the involvement of the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. To prepare, the finalists worked with Stony Brook University’s Alda Center for Communicating Science public speaking experts on how to engage listeners and present their work in a compelling yet academically rigorous pitch.

Seven-time Emmy Award-winner and Academy Award nominee Alan Alda, who is a visiting professor in the Alda Center for Communicating Science, opened the competition after having met the faculty competing for the Prize.

“I am so impressed by the Discovery Prize contestants. With the support of the Alda Center for Communicating Science, they presented their very complex research in clear and vivid language,” he said. “As research becomes more interdisciplinary and funding sources change, they will need to communicate to a variety of audiences – and they are off to a great start.

“These young researchers have a lifetime of discovery ahead of them, and with a grounding in empathy for their audience, we now have a better chance of understanding their important work and impact. Congratulations to these star scientists.”