Elizabeth Quinlan, PhD, an accomplished research scientist and strategic leader, will be the next chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Quinlan is currently a professor and the Clark Leadership Chair in Neuroscience at the University of Maryland in College Park, where she serves as the director of the Brain and Behavior Institute. In this role, she led an expansion of neuroscience research through targeted investments in faculty recruitment and research cores, which are centralized and shared resources that provide access to scientific instruments and services needed by researchers.

Elizabeth Quinlan portrait
Elizabeth Quinlan Lisa Helfert Photography

She is also a faculty member in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. To promote collaboration, Quinlan has successfully facilitated community building and the development of a shared vision for brain and behavior research between the College Park and Baltimore campuses.

Quinlan’s experience makes her well positioned to advance the work of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s distinguished Department of Neuroscience, according to Dr. Robert N. Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“I look forward to the next chapters that will be written in the incredible story of this vitally important program,” he said.

The Department of Neuroscience was founded in 2011 to bring together faculty with expertise in basic neuroscience research and education from across the school. The department investigates fundamental questions in cellular, molecular and developmental neuroscience. It has a strong history of cutting-edge systems neuroscience that leads to clinical applications, including work on auditory, visual and motor systems.

“The Department of Neuroscience is renowned for its strengths in molecular, cellular and systems neuroscience, and I am honored to serve as the chair of this outstanding department at this exceptional public university,” Quinlan said. “I am eager to create, inspire and support opportunities for expansion and continued success of interdisciplinary neuroscience research at UW.”

Quinlan’s appointment will begin in August 2023.

She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She completed postdoctoral studies at the University of Virginia and Brown University before joining the University of Maryland in 2001. She also serves as a core director for the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. As an advocate for mentoring and diversity, equity and inclusion, she was a founding member and first director of a physiological systems graduate program with a flexible curriculum to promote the expansion and diversification of the graduate student body.

Quinlan’s research focuses on differences in the impact of sensory experience on the juvenile and adult mammalian brain. Her work has demonstrated that the adult brain loses the ability to recover from previous deficits, such as what occurs in amblyopia, which is sometimes called lazy eye. This is due to neuronal synapses being unable to adapt to experiences by strengthening or weakening, which is a process known as synaptic plasticity.

Further research from her group demonstrated that synaptic plasticity could be restored in animal models — and promote recovery from amblyopia in adult models — by depriving binocular visual input through exposure to darkness, followed by reintroducing light. Quinlan earned the Advancement of Science Award from the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association for this work. 

The totality of her career to this point has prepared her well for this position, according to Golden.

“Dr. Quinlan’s extensive research and leadership experience will help take our remarkable Department of Neuroscience to even greater heights,” he said.