Carol Barnes
Carol Barnes

UA Psychologist Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Carol Barnes has produced groundbreaking research on how the brain changes during the course of normal aging, and the consequences those changes have on memory and information processing.
May 3, 2018

Carol Barnes, University of Arizona Regents' Professor of Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Barnes, one of the world's leading experts on brain aging, was one of 84 new members elected to the academy this week, along with 21 foreign associates, in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Barnes is the only new member from Arizona. 

Election to membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors a U.S. scientist or engineer can achieve. According to the academy, Barnes' election makes her the 14th living member from the UA. An additional 16 UA members are deceased.

Barnes, who holds the UA's Evelyn F. McKnight Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging, is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking research on how the brain changes during the course of normal aging, and the consequences those changes have on memory and information processing. 

Driven by the philosophy that scientists cannot fully understand age-associated brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease until they understand normal brain aging, her research involves a variety of behavioral, electrophysiological and molecular biological approaches to the study of the brain. 

"Over the course of her remarkable career Dr. Barnes has reshaped our understanding of the aging brain," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "She continues to do cutting-edge research that is fundamental to understanding how we can live longer and healthier lives, both physically and cognitively, and she has positioned the UA to be a worldwide leader in research on long-term human wellness. Dr. Barnes is a titan in her field, and I am very proud that she is being recognized in this way."

"The election to the National Academy of Sciences is a great honor for me personally, especially because it indicates a scientific communitywide appreciation of the importance of understanding the neurobiology of brain aging and its impact on cognition," said Barnes, who joined the UA Department of Psychology in 1990 and was named a Regents' Professor in 2006.

"Of course, my election to the NAS would not have been possible without collaboration of many colleagues, students and support staff with whom I have had the good fortune to work with over more than 40 years," she said. 

Barnes co-founded the UA's Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging, a dedicated research unit for the study of brain mechanisms of learning and their changes with age, which she continues to direct. She also is director of the UA's Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute and a member of the UA's BIO5 Institute.

She received her bachelor's degree from the University of California, Riverside, holds a doctorate in psychology from Carleton University in Ontario, Canada, and did postdoctoral training at the Neurophysiological Institute in Oslo and at the Cerebral Functions Group at University College London before being hired to her first faculty position at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1982. 

Barnes has published hundreds of journal articles, has received numerous awards for her work, and has been continuously funded for her research by the National Institute on Aging since 1982. She also is a longtime member and past president of the Society for Neuroscience, the largest body of scientists in the world who study the brain. 

"Carol has not only made groundbreaking contributions to the study of the aging brain, but her research literally established the field," said Lee Ryan, professor and head of the UA Department of Psychology. "At a time when most people simply equated aging with deteriorating, Carol showed us that the aging brain is resilient – it's constantly adapting, reshaping and rewiring. Disorders like dementia are not the inevitable endpoint of aging. This is an incredibly important and positive message that we owe to Carol's work."

Ryan added: "She is not only an amazing scientist, but she is also a wonderful colleague and a dedicated mentor and educator. Many young neuroscientists around the globe – in particular, women neuroscientists – are indebted to Carol for her guidance and encouragement." 

The National Academy of Sciences, a private nonprofit organization of the country's leading researchers, has 2,382 active members, plus 484 foreign associates – nonvoting members with citizenship outside the United States. The academy provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

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