Jason da Silva Castanheira, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist who completed his PhD in the Integrated Program in Neuroscience at McGill University under the supervision of Sylvain Baillet, PhD, at the Montreal Neurological Institute, has been awarded the Gordon A. Maclachlan Prize and the Governor General’s Gold Medal. The prizes were conferred to Jason in recognition of his exemplary academic record, the excellence of his thesis and the significance of his research. 

“Being awarded the Gordon A. Maclachlan Prize and the Governor General’s Gold Medal means the world to me,” said Jason. “From a very young age, my parents strongly encouraged me to get a higher education, an opportunity they never were afforded. Winning these awards feels like a wonderful recognition of my hard work and a validation of my family’s sacrifices so that I could pursue a graduate degree.” 


Jason’s doctoral thesis focused on characterizing the biological origins of our inter-individual differences. Jason discovered what features of brain activity are unique to individuals by using brain scans of over 1000 individuals from openly available datasets. His research contributed to the notion of the ‘brain-fingerprint’: brain activity characteristic of individuals. He demonstrated that the brain-fingerprint is stable over months, impacted by neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, and strongly influenced by genetics. The results of his dissertation lay the groundwork for future work exploring the biological origins of individual diversity. His research has been recognized by the Canadian Association for Neuroscience Brain Star Award, the Fonds de Recherche de Quebec, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. 


“As a kid growing up in Montreal, I vividly remember watching the Heritage Minutes ads on TV, especially the one with Dr. Penfield performing neurosurgery at the Montreal Neurological Hospital,” noted Jason. “I was fascinated that such groundbreaking work was happening right around the corner. Years later, I found myself standing in the main lobby of that very hospital, looking up at the painted ceiling, feeling incredibly privileged to be conducting research at the same institute where Dr. Brenda Milner worked, and Dr. Penfield founded.” 


During his time at McGill University, Jason strongly advocated for scientific openness. He curated resources and taught online courses about computer programming for neuroscientists. In addition, he developed analysis tools for the neuroscientific community as part of the openly available Brainstorm software package. His involvement with NeuroLingo, the Wisdom Exchange Program, and his administrative role in Brain Info underscore his dedication to communicating scientific innovation to everyone.

“After almost 10 years at McGill University, I can say that my time here has been filled with amazing opportunities to learn from some of the best neuroscientists in the world. It’s an experience I’ll always be grateful for and remember,” said Jason who will continue his scientific journey as a post-doctoral research fellow at University College London exploring the neuroscience of attention and conscious perception in the lab of Prof. Steve Fleming. His research will focus on how the brain selects information for planning.