Nikki Crowley, Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Early Career Chair in Neurobiology and Neural Engineering and assistant professor of biology and of biomedical engineering, has been named a Women to Watch: Class of 2023 as part of the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts’ Women in STEAM Awards. The Whitaker Center, located in Harrisburg, PA, presents the Women in STEAM Awards to recognize women in Central Pennsylvania who have made an impact in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
“I am extremely proud to be honored by the Whitaker Center among this amazing group of women,” Crowley said. “Seeing all of the women being honored has inspired me to continue to strive to be the best researcher, teacher, and mentor that I can be. I was especially awed by the young women who received the Rising Star Awards, they were so impressive and are a game-changing generation of women.”
Crowley's research focuses on molecules called neuropeptides and the unique role they play in brain signaling and in regulating human health. One of her goals is to understand how neuropeptides modulate neural circuits, the groups of interconnected neurons that carry out specific functions in the brain. Broadly, the Crowley Lab investigates the interactions between neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, neurons, and circuits, to understand how these systems are altered by variables such as biological sex, stress, drug exposure, and age.
The lab team also is passionate about how they can target peptide systems for therapeutic purposes, an avenue of research recently funded through the Benkovic Research Initiative. Crowley’s lab comprises a diverse group of biologists, neuroscientists, and engineers from across campus, highlighting the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of their work.
“We are thrilled for Nikki to be honored with this award from the Whitaker Center,” said Elizabeth McGraw, professor and head of biology. “Her work exemplifies the cross-disciplinary research that we value so highly here at Penn State connecting biology and biomedical engineering and has the potential to make an important and positive impact on society through improving human health.”
Crowley was named the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Early Career Chair in Neurobiology and Neural Engineering by the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences in 2023. She also received a Young Investigator Award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and National Institutes of Health in 2023. She is the 2022 recipient of the Neuropsychopharmacology Editor's Early Career Award (NEECA) for her paper, "Somatostatin neurons control an alcohol binge drinking prelimbic microcircuit in mice," which appeared in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. This work formed the foundation of Crowley's recent five-year NIH R01 award, supporting her work investigating peptide signaling in the prelimbic cortex. Additionally, Crowley was among the inaugural awardees to receive funding from the Patricia and Stephen Benkovic Research Initiative.
Crowley’s holds appointments in the Eberly College of Science and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and her current Penn State affiliations include the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Center for Neural Engineering, the Center for Neurotechnology in Mental Health Research, the Center for the Molecular Investigation of Neurological Disorders, and the Center for Healthy Aging.
Crowley earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at James Madison University in 2008, worked at the National Institutes on Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), completed a master's degree in psychology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2011, and was an Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Fellow at the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. She earned a doctorate in neurobiology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine in 2015. Crowley completed postdoctoral training at Penn State prior to joining the Penn State faculty in 2018 as an assistant research professor in the department of biobehavioral health and became an assistant professor in the department of biology in 2020.
About the Whitaker Center
The Whitaker Center opened its doors on September 9, 1999, welcoming visitors to a unique experience in education and entertainment. It was named in memory of the founder of AMP Incorporated (now TE Connectivity), Uncas A. Whitaker and his wife Helen F. Whitaker, in recognition of more than $8 million contributed by The Whitaker Foundation and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. The Whitaker Foundation was established upon Uncas’s death in 1975 to support biomedical engineering research and education. His wife, Helen, created The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, which supported training for classical musicians. Both foundations provided major support to build the facility. Whitaker Center is an enduring legacy to their generous philanthropy and regional stewardship. After years of making grants to the region and the nation, both foundations closed in 2006.