Interdisciplinary Partnerships


The road that leads to scientific success, from lab bench discoveries to treatments and therapies used in medical practice, is a long trail that requires the communication and collaboration of many individuals from varied backgrounds.

While complex modern science in many fields often requires contributions from multiple team members who have different kinds of expertise, neuroimaging research simply cannot be done without an interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinary research differs from multidisciplinary research. In multidisciplinary research investigators from different disciplines meet and share ideas in order to solve a problem, but they return to their individual disciplines essentially unchanged. Interdisciplinary research is different: individuals from different disciplines join together to solve a problem, and both they and science are changed by the process in that they share ideas and create new knowledge. It is used to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single scientific discipline. Interdisciplinary research is inherently exciting because it usually involves working on new frontiers. A report from the National Research Council of the National Academies identified four drivers of interdisciplinary research: 

  • Both nature and society are fundamentally complex systems, which do not yield all their secrets to discipline-based approaches
  • The problems that define the frontiers of science are frequently found at the intersections between multiple disciplines. Many of our best scientists are attracted to work on problems of this kind
  • Modern society increasingly requires science with a broad perspective for responsible decision-making in many arenas. Such science will necessarily be informed by expertise that reaches across many intersecting disciplines
  • Generative technologies tend to span disciplinary boundaries. These technologies and tools open paths to new knowledge in transformative ways

The report points out that when science is healthy and traditional disciplines interact, change is constantly occurring, and interdisciplinary interaction creates new knowledge and new fields:

  • Biology + chemistry = biochemistry
  • Astronomy + physics = astrophysics
  • Neurology + psychiatry + pharmacology= neuropsychopharmacology
  • Biology + information technology + computer science = bioinformatics
  • Geology + physics = geophysics

Even the name of our field, neuroimaging, highlights its inherent interdisciplinarity: it is the union between the study of one of the most complex systems in the universe, the brain, and one of the most powerful tools in biomedical research, the tools of imaging. Consequently, the Iowa Neuroimaging Consortium thrives on interdisciplinarity. Brain scientists come from a variety of fields and interact with one another and with imaging scientists. They include neurologists, psychiatrists, neurosurgeons, neuropharmacologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, geneticists, and molecular biologists. Imaging scientists include biomedical engineers, computer scientists, neuroradiologists, and radiochemists. Bridges between these groups, which actively collaborate with one another, are also built by people with expertise in biostatistics and bioinformatics. The products of all these interactions includes the development of tools that become widely used, such as software for image analysis, and the further development of new fields, such as neuroeconomics.

Our Partners

Spatial, Perception, Action and Memory (SPAM) Lab, Department of Psychology, UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

John Spencer, PhD

John Spencer, PhD, of the Spatial Perception, Action, and Memory (SPAM) Lab, is a Professor of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. His research interests involve the development of executive function, working memory, attention, and action; visuo-spatial cognition; spatial language and early word learning; dynamical systems and neural network models of cognition and action; and developmental and cognitive neuroscience with an emphasis on fNIRS and fMRI. He also directs the Get Ready Iowa project affiliated with the Delta Learning Center. He also directs the CHild Imaging Laboratory in Developmental Science (CHILDS) and the Get Ready Iowa project, both of which are affiliated with the UI Delta Center.

Health, Brain and Cognition Lab, Department of Psychology, UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Michelle Voss, PhD

Michelle Voss, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She directs the Health, Brain, & Cognition Lab. Her research examines the neurobiological mechanisms associated with cognitive aging and age-related neurological diseases, and how to effectively intervene for improved cognition and quality of life. One line of projects focus on determining the effects of physical activity and sedentary behavior on the brain and cognition across the lifespan. A parallel line of studies examines age-related individual differences in the neural mechanisms of skill acquisition and associative memory. We also bring these two interests together by examining how physical activity affects learning and memory. We examine neural mechanisms using non-invasive neuroimaging techniques, such as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging at MRRF.

Human Brain Research Lab, Neurosurgery

Matthew Howard III, MD

Matthew Howard III, VanGuilder Professor and Chair of Neurosurgery, directs the Human Brain Research Lab (HBRL). This laboratory has extensive collaborations with leading figures in cognitive science, neuroscience, and neuroimaging both within the University of Iowa and also nationally and internationally. HBRL research activities are centered on experimental protocols involving neurosurgical patients who are undergoing clinically necessary procedures that require the use functional brain mapping techniques. These methods include delivery of electrical stimuli, brain cooling, and direct electrophysiological recordings using both surface and penetrating recording arrays. Anatomical and functional brain imaging is a critical aspect of all HBRL protocols. Pre and post-operative imaging is used to identify specific brain regions of interest and allow investigators to directly correlate the results of invasive experimental studies with findings from the non-invasive brain imaging methods, all in the same subjects.


Daniel Tranel, PhD

Neuropsychological and neuroanatomical correlates of complex human behavior. My research deals with the following topics: visual recognition; face recognition; verbal and nonverbal learning and retrieval; nonconscious cognitive processing; acquired disorders of social conduct; emotional processing; psychophysiology. The work is aimed at understanding brain-behavior relationships in humans, at systems level. Two main approaches are used: (1) the lesion method, in which brain-damaged patients are studied with neuropsychological procedures to determine how certain lesion sites are related to certain cognitive and behavioral deficits; and (2) functional imaging, including PET and fMRI, in which the brain activation in normal subjects is measured while the subjects are performing various tasks. My research has been continuously and fully funded for three decades. I have about a thousand square feet of laboratory space in the Department of Neurology in the University of Iowa Hospitals.


Natalie Denburg, PhD

Natalie Denburg, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Her research interests involve the neural basis of decision-making abilities in older adults; consumer, medical and financial decision making; neuroepidemiology; social and affective neuroscience; and cancer survivorship.



Matthew Rizzo, MD

Matthew Rizzo, MD, directs the University of Iowa (UI) Aging Mind and Brain Initiative. He is a professor of Neurology, and holds appointments in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and the Public Policy Center at the UI. In Neurology he is Vice-Chair for Translational and Clinical Research, Director of the Division of Neuroergonomics and its laboratories (including state-of-the-art driving simulators and instrumented vehicles), a senior member of the Division of Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, and a senior attending physician in the Memory Disorders Clinic. He is a graduate of Columbia University in New York City and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He has participated in many professional organizations and committees, including the US Federal Drug Administration’s Panel for Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs and the National Academy of Sciences Board on Human-Systems Integration.

Iowa Institute for Biomedical Imaging

Milan Sonka, PhD

Dr. Milan Sonka is head of the Iowa Institute for Biomedical Imaging (IIBI), which was formed in 2007 as an acknowledgment of a long history of interdisciplinary collaboration at the University of Iowa. The formation of the interdisciplinary institute reflects a strong institutional support to biomedical imaging and image analysis as well as to translational medical research. The IIBI brings together more than 60 faculty members (out of which over 45 hold faculty positions in the Carver College of Medicine, 15 hold faculty positions in the College of Engineering with a primary expertise in biomedical image analysis) and over 60 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The mission of IIBI is to foster efficient and cooperative interdisciplinary and cross-college research and discovery in biomedical imaging, and to improve training and education within the broader community at the University of Iowa. The Institute is finding its new home in two stories of a 100,000 sq.ft. University of Iowa Pappajohn Bioengineering Discovery Building that will be completed in June of 2014 – the floor plan and photographs are provided below. The IIBI space in this new building (30,897 sq.ft.) are devoted to human, large, and small animal imaging, image analysis, computational support, visualization, and biostatistical support. The IIBI space in the new building will become a new integrated home for a large number of image analysis projects that are currently ongoing at the University of Iowa and will therefore further enhance close interaction within the University of Iowa biomedical imaging community.

Radiology Department PET Imaging Center

Laura Ponto, PhD, RPh

Dr. Laura Ponto, PhD, RPh, Associate Professor, Department of Radiology, is one of the founding faculty members of the University of Iowa Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Imaging Center and is an expert in PET and pharmacoimaging of both humans and small animals. She has extensive experience in the imaging and analysis of brain metabolism ([18F]fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)), blood flow (quantitative [15O]water) and amyloid burden ([11C]PIB and [18F]florbetapir) studies and tracer kinetic modeling.