Rice U.’s Simon Fischer-Baum wins NSF CAREER Award 

Rice University
Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations

David Ruth

Amy McCaig

Rice U.’s Simon Fischer-Baum wins NSF CAREER Award 

HOUSTON – (March 19, 2018) – Rice University psychologist Simon Fischer-Baum has won a coveted National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, which includes a five-year grant that will support his research on understanding the brain processes involved when people read written words. The knowledge gained from this project could impact the understanding of people with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, and help in the treatment of brain injuries.



CAREER Awards are among the NSF’s most competitive honors, and fewer than 400 are given in a typical year. According to the foundation, they are given in “support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Fischer-Baum, who is an assistant professor of psychology in Rice’s School of Social Sciences. “I’m very excited about this project. I think the new techniques that we are developing in the lab are very promising and I look forward to seeing the ways that they will impact the lives of individuals with reading difficulties.”

A member of Rice’s faculty since 2013, Fischer-Baum focuses his research on written and spoken language processing, short-term memory and cognitive neuropsychology.

Fischer-Baum said that over the years, significant advancements have been achieved in the understanding of how people read words — both in terms of building computer models of how people read and in understanding the neural basis of reading. He said the goal of his project is to link these computational and cognitive neuroscience approaches by using brain activity data from neuroimaging studies to answer some fundamental questions about how people read.

Over the course of the study, Fischer-Baum will try to answer the following questions:

  • What code does the brain use to recognize written words?
  • How do individuals differ in how they process written words?
  • Do people read words differently depending on the context in which the words are read?

Fischer-Baum wants to develop a neurocognitive theory of reading that can provide important insights into how people read words. This will potentially inform literacy education, the treatment of learning disabilities or the remediation of language loss after brain injury, he said.

“Written language was invented too recently for our brains to have evolved to have special mechanisms for reading and writing,” Fischer-Baum said. “Yet literacy is so essential in contemporary society. Understanding how we accomplish this culturally transmitted skill of reading, both from a neural and computational perspective, can provide insights into how brains change with experience and provide a framework for understanding why written words are hard for some people to process.”

An educational component of the project will develop new approaches to teaching students from high school, through college and into graduate school how to think about the relationship between brain data and theories about mental processes.

“Cognitive neuroscience and computational modeling have both provided important insights into reading, but these two research traditions have been pretty independent,” Fischer-Baum said. “The main goal of the project is to bridge these two approaches, hopefully building better theories that are informed by more sources of evidence.”

For more information on Fischer-Baum’s research, visit https://psychology.rice.edu/simon-fischer-baum.


For more information, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or amym@rice.edu.

This news release can be found online at http://news.rice.edu/.

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Related Materials:

Simon Fischer-Baum bio: https://psychology.rice.edu/simon-fischer-baum

Photo link: http://news.rice.edu/files/2015/05/0511_PSYCH-b.jpg

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.