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OHSU neuroscientist wins presidential award for promising scientists

Damien Fair’s research focuses on brain development, providing a better understanding of ADHD, autism

An Oregon Health & Science University neuroscientist who studies the developing brain has won a special presidential award — the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their careers.

The White House announced today that OHSU's Damien Fair, PA-C, Ph.D., was among the 102 scientists and engineers who were given the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for 2013.

“The impressive achievement of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”

The award was established by President Clinton in 1996. According to the White House, awardees are selected “for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.”

“I am honored to have been considered for this award and extremely humbled to have received it,” said Fair, who is an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience, an assistant professor of psychiatry and an assistant scientist in the Advanced Imaging Research Center at OHSU. “The scientific work we've been conducting is really the culmination of several mentors who have guided my training, a large and talented staff who conduct much of the work and many families who feel it important to participate in our research.”

Fair's research focuses on understanding and mapping the developing human brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, he is trying to understand atypical brain development, including in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. He hopes to find ways to better understand and characterize what is happening in the brains of people with these disorders so that science and medicine can find better ways to diagnose and treat them.

Beyond his scientific work, Fair also founded an OHSU initiative in 2012 called YES! — or the Youth Engaged in Science program. The program works to expose underrepresented middle and high school students along with their families to scientific research and to the possibilities of science, technology, engineering and math careers.

“Our outreach work through YES! is the result of a truly collaborative community effort, led by two motivated and talented directors,” Fair said. “I am happy to have the opportunity to share this award with this inspiring group.”

Robert Hitzemann, Ph.D., professor and chair of the OHSU Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, said of Fair: “Damien is an exceptional young scientist whose research has tremendous potential for both determining the causes of and finding new treatments for ADHD and autism. This award recognizes Damien's many achievements and future potential.”

Said George Keepers, M.D., professor and chair of OHSU's Department of Psychiatry: “Damien Fair’s visionary use of brain imaging techniques to explore the connection and coordination between different areas of the brain has already yielded promising insights into ADHD and autism. This award recognizes the prescience and promise of his work and is a portent of important future discoveries that he and his colleagues at OHSU will make.”

Fair was one of 20 scientists from or funded by the federal National Institutes of Health to win the presidential award for 2013. Other scientists were from or funded by the U.S. Department of Interior, the Department of Defense and the Department of Education, among other agencies.

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