Saturday, November 7, 2020

A Profile on Damien Fair (MacArthur Fellow) and Rahel Nardos, University of Minnesota

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

As you know there was a local MacArthur "genius award" (a MacArthur Fellow)--the amount is  $625,000 over five years to be expended any way the recipient decides. No strings.  The local recipient is Damien Fair, a University of Minnesota neuroscientist and M.D.. Fair has been studying brain development of children. Here is information from the MacArthur Program about Dr. Fair.

Dr. Fair has plans for how the award will be used--"to support his wife's life's work." Rahel Nardos is also an M.D. with a much different specialty: urogynecology.

STAT's Meghan Keshavan has a profile on both of them, focusing on their career paths and on their plans. She writes  "After traveling the country and the world together, pursuing their respective careers, the duo now wants to combine forces. They’re brainstorming ways to support maternal health to improve the outcomes of women’s children — studying, perhaps, how certain environments during pregnancy might impact early brain development. Or maybe they’ll build new training programs abroad to improve medical expertise in countries that need it. Fair and Nardos haven’t quite decided yet." 

Fair grew up in Minnesota and decided to become a physician assistant, not interested in becoming a doctor. Nardos grew up in Ethiopia. The two met at Yale University where both were in school.. When Nardos finished medical school she attended an OB-GYN residency program at Washington University. By then Fair had decided on neuroscience and became a graduate student at Washington University.. Fair was branded a "superstar" by his advisor Bradley Schlaggar. Nardos was encouraged by L. Lewis Wall to return "to Ethiopia to work with women who had experience trauma during childbirth." So with their son they packed up and returned to Ethiopia where Fair finished his dissertation.

This was followed by fellowships and post-doctoral work at Oregon State University. Fair turned down a similar fellowship offered by his former mentor at Washington University, to support his wife's surgical career. He was recently recruited to the University of Minnesota (Fair grew up here and his wife has relatives here. They also now have a 2nd child, a girl.). "The couple," according to Keshaven, "is in the process of building up the infrastructure of their new posts: Nardos will serve as the first director of global women’s health at the UM’s Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility. And Fair will lead the university’s Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, which was launched this May with a $35 million gift — and with the goal of helping to diagnose, treat, and prevent neurodevelopmental disorders in children and adolescents."

Fair's list of talents, interests and abilities is long. He is technically oriented and "loves software development," especially involving large data sets. In addition, he and Nico Dosenbach who studies children with autism and ADHD, co-founded a computer software company Nous Imaging which has developed a product "meant to monitor patient movement during brain MRI's--in order to help keep brain images as clear and accurate as possible." Routinely about 20% are damaged and beyond use currently. This technology will make more of this imaging useful.

Keshaven's essay is a great piece of reporting on two important superstars who will make major contributions in their fields.

And now both of them are living in and working in Minnesota! 


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