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Verne M. Willaman Gateway to the Sciences.

Crowley named holder of Huck Early Career Chair in Neurobiology and Neural Engineering

17 January 2023
Nikki Crowley

Nikki Crowley, assistant professor of biology and of biomedical engineering, has been 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. 

Crowley's research focuses on the role neuropeptides play as unique molecules in brain signaling and health regulation, and seeks to elucidate how neuropeptides modulate neural circuits. Specifically, 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.

"I am thrilled that the Huck continues to support my work and my vision,” Crowley said. “Support from this chair will allow my lab to expand our research, move in new directions and take bigger risks. We will also be able to form new collaborations within Penn State."

Crowley was 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.

"Nikki is a compelling young researcher leading a lab that pushes the boundaries of neurobiology and neural engineering,” said Andrew Read, director of The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. “We couldn’t be happier to honor her pioneering work with this chair appointment."

“We are thrilled to see this well-deserved appointment as yet another accomplishment in Nikki’s impressive career,” echoed Tracy Langkilde, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “She leads cutting-edge research in biology and biomedical engineering and is an important connector and driver of innovative research at Penn State with a direct impact on society.”

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 her bachelor of science in psychology from James Madison University in 2008, worked at the National Institutes on Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), completed her master's degree in psychology from 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 her doctorate in neurobiology from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine in 2015. Crowley did 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.