A Rare Honor For A Researcher: Mauricio Delgado Honored By President Barack Obama

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When Dr. Mauricio Delgado traveled to Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, he was in prestigious company at an equally prestigious location. He was one of 85 researchers nationwide honored with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers during ceremonies that included a photo session with the President.

Delgado, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University in Newark, was one of three scientists from New Jersey (the other two from Princeton University) chosen by President Barack Obama to receive the award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. 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. Honorees receive research grants for up to five years to further their studies in support of critical government missions. “I am confident that these individuals, who have shown such tremendous promise so early in their careers, will go on to make breakthroughs and discoveries that will continue to move our nation forward in the years ahead,” the President said in announcing the awards."

"This is an incredible honor and I am delighted about the recognition that our work at Rutgers is receiving,” stated Delgado. He and his research group use fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to investigate how the human brain learns from positive and negative reinforcers, and how this information is used to guide decision-making. Specifically, the goal of the research is to investigate how negative reinforcement influences the human brain and behavior, as a precursor to understanding how humans learn to cope with potential negative outcomes – outcomes that can influence decision-making in maladaptive ways, such as  drug abuse. Delgado’s research group is funded by a five-year National Institute on Drug Abuse grant. 

Because Delgado’s research delves into intriguing areas -- the relationship between fear of losing money and the fear of physical pain, how thinking positive thoughts fights cravings, and how stress affects the judgment of financial traders, to name a few — his research has been reported on by media such as NewScientist, The Economist, Scientific American, MSN Money, BBC News and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Chancellor Steven J. Diner called Delgado’s award “well-deserved acknowledgment of the caliber of work he is doing at Rutgers, where we have long recognized him as a rising star in psychology,” adding, “It also reinforces Rutgers-Newark’s status as a major research university with first-rate  faculty who are conducting cutting-edge research in critical areas of the sciences, arts, humanities and many other disciplines.”

The Presidential Early Career awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Ten federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate scientists and engineers  whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions. Delgado was nominated by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services.