Carina Curto, professor of mathematics, has been named a 2021 Simons Fellow in Mathematics by the Simons Foundation. The fellowship provides funds to faculty for a period of academic leave from classroom teaching and administrative duties, enabling recipients to focus solely on research for the long periods often necessary for significant research advances.
Curto uses applied mathematics to help explain neural network theory and how the brain encodes information. She uses data sets of electrical activity in the brain as a basis for theoretical models that can be studied mathematically. Curto has made several advances in understanding how the brain communicates with the outside world, for example by using topology to explore the role of cells called place cells in the hippocampus, which are thought to be the global positioning system of the brain. Curto also studies how neurons encode auditory information and how memories are encoded, stored, and recalled.
Curto previously received a Faculty Scholar Medal from Penn State in 2020, a Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty in 2012, and a Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2011. Since 2009, her work has been continuously funded by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Curto has published more than 25 papers in scientific journals and has presented more than 130 invited talks about her research across North America and Europe. She has also served as an associate editor for the SIAM Journal on Applied Algebra and Geometry (SIAGA).
Curto joined the faculty at Penn State as an associate professor in 2014 and was promoted to professor in 2019. Previously, Curto was an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 2009 to 2014, a Courant Instructor at New York University from 2008 to 2009, and a postdoctoral associate in the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University from 2005 to 2008. She earned a doctoral degree in mathematics at Duke University in 2005 and bachelor's degree in physics at Harvard University in 2000.