Sharlene Newman

Sharlene Newman
Courtesy Indiana University

Sharlene D. Newman is an American cognitive neuroscientist, executive director of the Alabama Life Research Institute at the University of Alabama (UA), professor in the Department of Psychology at UA, and associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Indiana University.

Her research specializes in understanding brain function using neuroimaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging. She was one of the first to use these imaging techniques to study language processing in the human brain, which has allowed her to determine which regions of the brain are involved in different language functions. She has also worked to use neuroimaging to understand other aspects of brain function, such as executive function, mathematical and spatial processing, drug addiction and psychopathology.

Newman was born in Abbeville, Alabama. She studied electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1993. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she earned a master’s degree in 1996 and a doctorate in biomedical engineering in 1999.

Newman began her postdoctoral research on language processing using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 1999 at Carnegie Mellon University, where she was later awarded an associate professorship. Her work was among the first research efforts to investigate complex language function and processing in the human brain using neuroimaging methods. In her postdoctoral phase, she investigated which brain regions are involved in different functions of sentence comprehension and other language processes. She also worked on applying machine learning methods to fMRI data to identify different cognitive functions from brain images.

In 2004, Newman moved to the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, where she has been a professor since 2017. From 2016 to 2019, she was associate vice provost for undergraduate education and in 2018 was named the Herman B. Wells Endowed Professor. At Indiana University, she continued her research on complex language functions, using functional magnetic resonance imaging to understand brain functions involved in sentence comprehension, bilingual learning, and sign language learning. She also studied mathematical and spatial skills in adults and children.

Newman co-founded the Imaging Research Facility at Indiana University and later became its director. Here she used imaging techniques to understand how substances such as alcohol and cannabis affect brain function. Her research also looked at other aspects of brain health, such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, and concussions.

As of 2019, Newman is the executive director of the Alabama Life Research Institute at the University of Alabama, an interdisciplinary research institute focused on health research. Newman was awarded the 2018 Woman of the Year Award by the City of Bloomington, Indiana, for her work to improve educational opportunities for young black girls and women.