Former Psychology doctoral student wins Graduate Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award

Friday, July 21, 2017

Formal University of Iowa docotoral student Dr. Alexandre (Alex) Tiriac has won the Graduate Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award for 2017 in recognition of the excellence of his doctoral dissertation entitled, “State-Dependent Processing of Reafference Arising from Self-Generated Movements in Infant Rats.” Tiriac’s dissertation was supervised by Professor Mark Blumberg in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The following is a summary of his dissertation:

“Animals must differentiate between the sensory consequences that arise from their own movements (e.g. moving your hand) from those that do not (e.g. someone moving your hand). In the process of making this distinction, sensory feedback from self-generated movements is typically suppressed. Here we show that myoclonic twitches, which are self-generated movements that occur during sleep and predominantly during early development, trigger robust sensory feedback throughout the nervous system. Consistent with this finding, we identify a neural mechanism in the brainstem that selectively inhibits sensory feedback from self-generated wake movements but not from self-generated twitches. Altogether, these findings demonstrate that twitches are a unique class of movement that is ideally suited to promote the activity-dependent development of the sensorimotor system.”

The Graduate Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award is made only occasionally and recognizes exceptionally meritorious scholarship. The award carries a prize of $500. Tiriac will also be honored at the James F. Jakobsen Memorial Graduate Research Conference Award Ceremony and Reception next spring.

Tiriac earned a doctorate from the UI in 2016 and is now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. 


The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.