Neuroscientist Bradley Dickerson wins McKnight Scholar Award for biological 'gyroscope'

The McKnight Foundation has selected Bradley Dickerson as one of six neuroscientists to receive the 2022 McKnight Scholar Award. The award will fund his project, “Proportional-Integral Feedback in a Biological 'Gyroscope.’”


Bradley Dickerson

McKnight Scholar Awards are granted to young scientists who have demonstrated a commitment to neuroscience. “This year’s Scholars exemplify the creativity and technical sophistication of today’s leading young neuroscientists from across the country,” said Richard Mooney, chair of the awards committee.

Dickerson, an assistant professor of neuroscience, came to Princeton in January 2022 from the University of North Carolina, where he was an assistant professor of biology. He completed his B.A in biology at Swarthmore College in 2008 and his Ph.D. in biology at the University of Washington in 2015 before working as an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Caltech.

His research investigates how the fruit fly uses feedback from its wings and specialized organs to both maintain stable flight and rapidly maneuver when navigating through complex environments, and how this process plays out at neural and whole-body scales.

From the award announcement: “The nervous system collects and acts on incoming information within milliseconds — sometimes with hardwired reflexes, sometimes with intention. But studying how these signals affect motion in a living animal presents challenges. There has been work at the level of individual neurons, as well as at the scale of whole-body motion. Dr. Dickerson proposes to bridge these different scales and also resolve the level of control fruit flies have over certain wing muscle assemblies through an experiment that studies specialized mechanosensory organs [that] detect rotational forces affecting the fly and provide involuntary instructions directly to wing muscles to compensate, acting as a sort of automatic gyroscope. ... He hopes to document how all these systems work together, learning what neurons send what signals to which muscles, and how this leads to specific motions — creating a model of how brains, neurons, and muscles communicate that can advance our understanding of how movement is controlled.”

Since the McKnight Scholar Award was introduced in 1977, this prestigious early-career award has funded more than 250 innovative investigators and spurred hundreds of breakthrough discoveries. Each McKnight Scholar Award recipient receives $75,000 per year for three years. Other recent awardees include Coleen Murphy, the James A. Elkins Jr. Professor in the Life Sciences and a professor of molecular biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics; Mala Murthy, the Karol and Marnie Marcin ’96 Professor, a professor of neuroscience and the director of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute; and Ilana Witten, a professor of psychology and neuroscience.