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Nikki Crowley named director of Neuroscience Institute at University Park

14 May 2024
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Nikki Crowley

Nikki Crowley, assistant professor of biology and of biomedical engineering and Huck Early Career Chair in Neurobiology and Neural Engineering, has been named director of the Penn State Neuroscience Institute (PSNI) at University Park.

Founded in 2003, the PSNI is a cross-campus institute, with complementary communities at University Park and at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey under Director Krishnankutty Sathian. Crowley succeeds Patrick Drew, who was appointed associate director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences earlier this year.

“I'm happy to hear that Nikki Crowley will be the director of the Neuroscience Institute at University Park,” said Professor of Biobehavioral Health David Vandenbergh, PSNI associate director at University Park from 2012 to 2019. “She's an energetic faculty member and an enthusiastic supporter of neuroscience. I think she will help build a sense of community, which will lead to expansion of the programs under the neuroscience umbrella.”

As a field, neuroscience is a vast umbrella and includes a variety of disciplines. For example, Vandenbergh’s academic appointment is at the College of Health and Human Development, while Drew’s is in the College of Engineering. Crowley herself holds courtesy appointments in pharmacology and biomedical engineering in addition to her home in the Eberly College of Science’s biology department. She said she recognizes that a key emphasis of her tenure will be to increase neuroscience-focused collaborations across University Park and the College of Medicine.

“The University Park Neuroscience Institute leadership has, since its inception, come from colleges across campus, and I think this diversity in leadership and thought reflects the true range of the field of neuroscience,” she said. “We span molecular and cellular biology, genetics, exploring the brain from a circuit perspective, computational and engineering approaches, and cognitive, behavioral and translational neuroscience. I look forward to bringing my new and unique perspective to the Neuroscience Institute, and to enhancing collaboration and catalyzing the work of our excellent faculty and neuroscience centers. ... Neuroscience is a big, wide-open field, but that’s what makes it so exciting. We don’t even know all the questions that we have yet to answer. But I think Penn State is in a strong position to solve some of the big questions — and I look forward to facilitating scientific excellence and watching those discoveries happen here.”

Crowley, who joined Penn State in 2016 and conducts research at the intersection of neuropeptides — small chains of amino acids that work as chemical messengers in the brain — addiction and brain health. Work in her lab focuses on neuropeptides as unique signaling molecules in the brain, with an emphasis on the interactions between neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, so that scientists and clinicians can better manipulate them for the benefit of human health.

“I could not be more pleased that Nikki Crowley has agreed to step into this important science leadership role,” said Troy Ott, interim director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. “Her demonstrated excellence in research, graduate student mentoring, along with her energy and vision for the future, is just what is needed to complement the substantial growth in neuroscience research at Penn State. ... With the combination of strong leadership at the College of Medicine and at University Park, Penn State is poised to have greater impact in neurosciences that spans from basic science to translational studies.”

Crowley received her bachelor of science in psychology from James Madison University, her master of arts from University of North Carolina (UNC) Wilmington and her doctorate from UNC Chapel Hill. Prior to her appointment as assistant professor, Crowley was a postdoctoral fellow and an assistant research professor at Penn State. She also did postbaccalaureate work with the National Institutes of Health.