October 12, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
“My days are spent solving problems that nobody else can,” says , director of the Aging Brain Cohort (ABC) Study – a UofSC Excellence Initiative run by communication sciences and disorders professor (and UofSC Vice President for the Office of Research) Julius Fridriksson.
Having someone with the expertise and wherewithal to tackle a wide range of problems that arise during the research process is a huge part of our success. I can’t think of anyone who I would rather have in that role.
-Julius Fridriksson, COMD professor, UofSC Vice President for the Office of Research
Newman-Norlund’s day begins in an open-air office in the Discovery building that the ABC team affectionately refers to as the “BatCave” and the technological “nerve center” of their work. He makes the rounds, checking in with various team members, fixing technical issues and analyzing any new brain scans that have arrived from the McCausland Center, which he manages. Another chunk of his day involves using high-end computers to process data and implement new programs that may offer new insights into the brain.
Newman-Norlund is a neuroscientist – a native New Yorker who earned his doctoral degree at Dartmouth College and then moved to the Netherlands for a postdoctoral fellowship. After researching human-to-human interaction at the Donders Institute for Brain, Behavior and Cognition (Radboud University) for five years, he began looking for academic positions back in the states.
“The University of South Carolina had the nicest people and the best environment,” says Newman-Norlund, who joined the Arnold School’s Department of Exercise Science in 2009.
Though he later transitioned to the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, Newman-Norlund’s connections to the Arnold School remain strong. Through his roles with ABC, the McCausland Center and the Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery (C-STAR), he works closely with Fridriksson and psychology professor Chris Rorden – a dynamic duo who have propelled UofSC forward in the areas of neuroscience and understanding/treating aphasia (i.e., communication challenges resulting from stroke or brain injury).
“Having someone with the expertise and wherewithal to tackle a wide range of problems that arise during the research process is a huge part of our success,” Fridrikkson says. “Roger has served in that role in our group for a while, which has made the rest of our researchers more productive and has provided stability as students and post-docs rotate in and out of the lab. I can’t think of anyone who I would rather have in that role.”
Having a chance to work with people with aphasia and using my skills to make a difference in their lives, gave new meaning to my work. Every day, I feel that I am making a difference in a real way.
-Roger Newman-Norlund, director of the Aging Brain Cohort Study
For Newman-Norlund’s part, he counts himself lucky to work with Rorden, a world-leader in the analysis and visualization software used in neuroimaging, and Fridriksson, whose enthusiasm for this work his highly contagious. Looking back, Newman-Norlund sees his transition to working with them and their projects as a turning point that gave his career a new trajectory and significance.
“Prior to working with them, I was involved in more basic scientific research, where it was less clear how results could be applied to clinical populations,” he says. “Having a chance to work with people with aphasia and using my skills to make a difference in their lives, gave new meaning to my work. Every day, I feel that I am making a difference in a real way.”
Always modest about his contributions, Newman-Norlund focuses on the aspects of his work that fulfill him the most – the chance to work with an all-star team, a consistent opportunity to make progress in a stable environment, and the guarantee that he will learn something new every day.
“Our work is well-funded, which is really critical, because it provides fertile ground for creativity and the types of new ideas that drive our field forward,” he says. “For me, I prefer to be the silent force that drives science from the depths of the BatCave!”
The Staff Spotlight Series is sponsored by the Arnold School's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.