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Swanson Elected President of Society for Neuroscience

USC Dornsife professor Larry Swanson is among the Society for Neuroscience's earliest members. Photo by Carin Baer.
USC Dornsife professor Larry Swanson is among the Society for Neuroscience's earliest members. Photo by Carin Baer.

Larry Swanson, Milo Don and Lucille Appleman Professor of Biological Sciences in USC Dornsife, has been elected president-elect of the Society for Neuroscience.

During his one-year term as president between 2012 and 2013, Swanson will guide the venerable society as its members publish the Journal of Neuroscience and testify before Congress on matters of funding for the National Institutes of Health.

“I was extremely surprised … and at the same time, extremely honored by the recognition,” Swanson said. “In science, like any other field, you mostly get criticism of your work. You never really know how your colleagues feel about it. It’s a rare opportunity to have great peer recognition.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, though,” he said.

For Swanson, this is the latest in a series of recent accolades and honors recognizing his contributions to neuroscience. The announcement comes just months after Swanson’s induction into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that can be conferred on a scientist.

“This well-deserved appointment reinforces Larry’s reputation as one of the field’s trailblazers,” said Howard Gillman, dean of USC Dornsife. “We are proud and delighted that our friend and colleague will be leading the society forward.”

Swanson, among the society’s earliest members, attended its first meeting in 1971 as a third-year graduate student. He was one of just 1,396 attendees at that first meeting; today the annual meeting attracts more than 30,000 attendees from around the world, according to the society’s Web site.

Swanson’s presidential term will include officiating the society’s 2013 meeting, where he will set the tone by recruiting speakers for a series of four presidential lectures. Those lectures likely are to focus on Swanson’s passion: creating a basic wiring diagram for the brain.

“The nervous system is a network; it’s a computer,” said Swanson, who hopes that the National Institutes of Health’s Human Connectome Project to produce a framework for thinking about how the brain works will do for the neural networks what the Genome Project did for genes.

The long delay between election as president-elect and assumption of presidential duties ensures continuity, allowing incoming presidents to carefully observe two predecessors at work before taking the position.

Swanson’s colleague, Michael Quick, executive vice provost and professor of biological sciences, described him as “exactly the right guy for the job.”

“As a neuroscientist myself, I know the important roles that the Society for Neuroscience plays,” Quick said. “Not only by publishing one of the leading journals in the field and organizing the annual conference, but by being a leading advocate for the importance of biomedical research - and by providing tremendous educational outreach to the public at large. It takes a special person to lead that effort.”

To Swanson, his election is recognition of the work of the students in his lab in addition to being a personal honor. Swanson keeps his lab small - there are fewer than a dozen students and research faculty in it currently - and he selects students with a passion for neuroscience.

“Larry’s election is an affirmation of the vast body of knowledge that he has generated, as well as of the exciting new technological tools that he, myself and our colleagues in the Swanson Lab are actively developing,” said Ramsay Brown, one of Swanson’s new Ph.D. students. “It’s an honor to work with Dr. Swanson.”

Swanson has taught at USC since 1990. During the course of his career, he has written and edited more than a dozen books, most recently the second edition of Brain Architecture: Understanding the Basic Plan (Oxford University Press, 2011).