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2017 UWIN Undergraduate and Post-baccalaureate Fellowships awarded

UWIN is pleased to announce that seven undergraduate students and three post-baccalaureate researchers have been awarded 2017 Washington Research Foundation Innovation Fellowships in Neuroengineering.  You can read their exceptional biographies below, and follow the links to see all of UWIN’s undergraduate and post-baccalaureate fellows.

2017 WRF Innovation Undergraduate Fellows:

Karley Benoff (2017 fellow) is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering major working with Kat Steele in the ME Ability & Innovation Lab. Karley’s research focuses on designing and optimizing body-powered orthoses for individuals with neuromuscular deficits of the arm. She will test her device with participants using electromyography (EMG) signals to evaluate motor learning and user adaptation. Karley’s goal is have the final orthosis design be open source.
Monica Harris (2017 fellow) is an undergraduate student working with Eatai Roth and Tom Daniel in the Biology department. Monica is interested in sensory processing systems, and her research focuses on the optomotor pitching response of the Hawk Moth (Manduca Sexta). Specifically, she explores how small- and wide-field visual stimuli affect the abdominal flexion of moths in a closed-loop system.
Kim Hua (2017 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Bioengineering working with Rajesh Rao in the Computer Science & Engineering department. Kim’s research uses electrocorticography (ECoG) to provide direct cortical stimulation as a means of providing tactile feedback in human subjects. She is interested in how different stimulation parameters change human perception. This information can inform future experiments on sensory stimulation and bi-directional brain computer interfaces. Kim aims to pursue a Ph.D. in Bioengineering after graduation.
Linxing Preston Jiang (2017 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Computer Science who works with Rajesh Rao in the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and Andrea Stocco in the Psychology department. Preston is researching the relationship between transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and the elicited visual perception of human participants. After graduation, Preston hopes to pursue a Ph.D. to keep working in the field of brain computer interface and machine learning, and possibly bridging the gap between BCI and operating systems.
Jessica Johnson (2017 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Bioengineering working with Rajiv Saigal in the Neurosurgery Department. Jessica’s research investigates the use of a controlled, localized drug release system for the treatment of spinal cord injuries. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she intends to pursue a Ph.D. in Bioengineering, with a focus in neuroscience.
Ben Pedigo (2017 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Bioengineering with a minor in Applied Math. He is working with Chet Moritz in the Departments of Rehabilitation Medicine and Physiology & Biophysics. Ben’s research investigates how optogenetic stimulation of the spinal cord may be able to improve upper-limb motor function after a spinal cord injury. He is optimizing the lab’s implantable optogenetic stimulation methods for use in long-term studies in rodents. After graduating, Ben plans to pursue a Ph.D. in bioengineering or a related field, continuing to study the interface between technology and the nervous system.
Gautham Velchuru (2017 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Computer Science working with Bing Brunton in the Biology department. Gautham’s work involves developing software for face annotation and emotion recognition, with the goal of creating an automated facial pose recognition pipeline. This will be used along with video and electrocorticography (ECoG) data to gain insight into possible associations between naturalistic brain recordings and behavior. He is especially interested in computer vision and machine learning, and hopes to continue working in those fields.

2017 WRF Innovation Post-baccalaureate Fellows:

Comron Ganji (2017 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with Steve Perlmutter in the Physiology and Biophysics department. Comron’s research uses the Neurochip, a brain-computer interface, to induce spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP) following a spinal cord contusion injury in a rat model. He will be using the Neurochip to explore which type of recording/stimulating patterns can best induce STDP as a means to aid in recovery of motor function following a spinal cord injury. Comron attended the University of Washington where he received a bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology with departmental honors.
Natalie Koh (2017 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with Andrea Stocco in Psychology and Thomas Grabowski in Radiology. Natalie’s research uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to determine if it is possible to bias the retrieval of specific types of memories. The goal of her work is to inform current human brain-to-brain interfacing paradigms. Natalie is also broadly interested in the development of brain-computer interfaces and neural prosthetics for clinical use. She graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Psychology (with Honors) in 2016, and was a recipient of the Mary Gates Research Scholarship award and the Guthrie Prize for best empirical paper.
Emily Kubota (2017 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with Jason Yeatman at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. Emily’s research focuses on understanding the function of the ventral temporal cortex (VTC) in perception. She is currently examining how task demands affect activation in the VTC using fMRI studies, and eventually hopes to expand her work to see whether these patterns of activation can be used to predict behavioral data, such as reading scores in individuals with Dyslexia. Emily recently graduated from Pomona College with a bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science.

Raj Rao, UWIN faculty and CSNE Director, receives endowed professorship at UW

Raj Rao, UWIN faculty and CSNE Director, receives endowed professorship at UWRaj Rao, a UWIN Executive Committee member and Director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) has been named the Cherng Jia and Elizabeth Yun Hwang Endowed Professor in the University of Washington’s (UW’s) Department of Electrical Engineering.

From the UW EE department: “This professorship is built on the Hwangs’ shared vision of making life better for those with paralysis. It supports the critical advancement of rehabilitation technologies for spinal cord injury and stroke. The nature of this research requires a multi-disciplinary approach.”

“The selection of Professor Rao is ideal,” Mr. Hwang said. “His work lays the groundwork for research on developing a device-based rehabilitation technology to improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injury and brain damage.”

“I am truly honored to be named the inaugural CJ and Elizabeth Hwang Professor of CSE and EE,” Rao said. “I regard the Professorship as a recognition of the great collaborative effort of the students, faculty and staff at our center [CSNE] over the past 6 years that has made UW a premier destination for neural engineering in the world. We are extremely grateful to the Hwang family for their generosity in accelerating the center’s efforts to build devices that will improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injury and other neurological conditions.”

Read more at:

Emily Fox, UWIN faculty, wins award from Seattle’s Association for Women in Science

Emily Fox (UW Seattle), winner of an award from Seattle’s Association for Women in ScienceUWIN faculty member Emily Fox has been awarded the 2017 Award for Scientific Advancement in STEM by the Seattle Chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS).  These awards recognize “outstanding women who have advanced their fields of scientific research, education and outreach.  They are leaders and innovators whose work has made an impact.  They are mentors and inspiring role models for students and other professionals.”

AWIS says:  “Emily is an expert in machine learning and a leading researcher in redefining the scope and nature of applied statistics.  She is a leader in developing computationally realistic modeling tools for complex data sets.  In addition to teaching and advising at University of Washington, she co-created an online course about machine learning.  She was recently recognized by President Obama with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.  Emily fosters the development of other women in science through her visible success and being approachable and available as a mentor and counselor.”

Eric Chudler, UWIN faculty and CSNE Executive Director, wins Emmy Award!

Eric Chudler, UWIN faculty and CSNE Executive Director, winner of an Emmy for “BrainWorks: Exercise and the Brain”. Eric Chudler, a UWIN faculty member and the Executive Director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) won an Emmy Award at the 2017 Northwest Regional Emmy Awards for an episode of the UWTV series BrainWorks!  Dr. Chudler was the executive producer and host of the winning episode of BrainWorks, “Exercise and the Brain“.   BrainWorks aims to teach kids and parents alike about the brain in entertaining and informative ways.  The winning episode focused on the benefits of exercise on the brain and learning.  The award was in the Health/Science Program category.

See more at the CSNE’s website: “CSNE Executive Director wins Emmy Award”

Watch the winning episode below!

Applications open for 2017 UWIN graduate fellowships

Applications are open for the 2017 WRF Innovation Graduate Fellowships in Neuroengineering.

These prestigious fellowships provide a graduate stipend of $30,000 for two years, as well as full tuition coverage and $2000 in travel funds.  Graduate students in any UW degree-granting program who have committed to doing research in the lab of one of UWIN’s faculty members are welcome to apply.  Individuals from underrepresented minority groups are especially encouraged to apply.  Co-mentoring between experimental and theoretical or engineering groups is encouraged.

Applications are due by Monday, July 17, 2017, with funding starting in September 2017.  More information about the fellowship and application can be found at:

Steve Brunton, UWIN faculty, wins College of Engineering award

UWIN faculty member Steve Brunton has won the 2017 UW College of Engineering’s Faculty Award for Teaching!  The College of Engineering awards “acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the college’s teaching and research assistants, staff, and faculty members”.  Congratulations, Steve!

In 2016, UWIN faculty member Kat Steele won the College of Engineering’s Junior Faculty Award!

UW Innovation Award won by four UWIN faculty!

We are exceedingly proud to announce that four UWIN faculty are recipients of a 2017 UW Innovation Award!  The University of Washington Innovation Awards “fuel the ideas that address problems of humanity while encouraging and celebrating creativity among faculty”.  The purpose of the awards is to “stimulate innovation among faculty from a range of disciplines and to reward some of their most terrific ideas.”

This year, four awards were given across the entire University of Washington, and three of the four awards went to faculty from UWIN!  Since the award’s inception in 2014, 13 faculty projects have received Innovation Awards totaling $3 million.  The UWIN award winners this year were: 1) the team of Bing Brunton (Biology) and David Gire (Psychology), 2) Jeff Riffell (Biology), and 3) John Tuthill (Physiology & Biophysics).  Each of their awarded projects is described below.

ModuBing Brunton and David Gire, UW Innovation Award winnerslating complex natural behaviors in rodents with direct closed-loop control of neural systems

Bing Brunton, Assistant Professor, Biology
David Gire, Assistant Professor, Psychology

This project will characterize how networks of neurons in different brain areas interact while an animal solves a complex task.  To do this, Drs. Brunton and Gire will combine large-scale, high-density neural recordings with data-driven modeling.  Their goal is to understand the dynamic neural computations that support natural behaviors. This will also provide them the unique opportunity to directly manipulate brain activity and influence natural behavior.  They will be developing a closed-loop electronic system in collaboration with the non-profit Open Ephys.

They state: “The hardware and software platforms developed as part of this project will be shared as open-source resources for the wider neuroengineering community. This cutting-edge effort will illuminate our understanding of how coordinated brain activity supports ecologically important behaviors, as well as contribute a network-theoretic perspective of brain function and dysfunctions that manifest as neurological and mental disorders…This demonstration is an essential step towards implementing targeted bioelectronics therapies for a variety of major neurological and psychiatric disorders”.  Their project addresses these questions by leveraging the experimental neuroscience expertise of the Gire lab and novel computational approaches from the Brunton lab.

Jeff Riffell, UW Innovation Award winnerGenerating mutant mosquitoes to identify the genetic and neural bases of human host-seeking behavior

Jeff Riffell, Associate Professor, Biology

Mosquitos can carry a number of serious human diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, Zika, and West Nile virus.  Mosquitos locate hosts using their sensitive olfactory system, and many vary in their preference for individual humans or other hosts.  Prior experience with a host affects future host choices, and many mosquitos can change their host preference if necessary.  However, there is no information about the neural and genetic bases of these behaviors.

In this project, Dr. Riffell’s work with mosquitos will use “cutting-edge genetic manipulations and new neurophysiological recording methods to identify the genetic and olfactory bases of host preferences in mosquitos”.  Additionally, Dr. Riffell will investigate how learning modifies mosquito behavior in regards to host choice.  Ultimately, one goal of this work is to determine if there are possible genetic targets for mosquito control.

Watch a fascinating video introduction of this project! (requires UW login).

John Tuthill, UW Innovation Award winnerUsing virtual reality to dissect the function of proprioceptive neural circuits during behavior

John Tuthill, Assistant Professor, Physiology and Biophysics

Proprioception, the sense of body position and movement, is critical for effective control of motor behavior.  Despite the importance of proprioception, little is known about the neural computations that underlie limb proprioception in any animal.  To better understand proprioception, Dr. Tuthill describes that we must: 1) identify which neurons encode proprioceptive signals, and 2) record from neurons encoding proprioception during natural limb movements.

Dr. Tuthill proposes to “overcome these challenges by investigating the neural coding of leg proprioception in a genetic model organism: the fruit fly, Drosophila“.  His lab has “developed new methods to record from genetically-defined neural circuits in the fly while controlling leg movements with a magnetic control system”.  In this new work, he will record from proprioceptive neurons while a walking fly navigates a virtual environment.

He states: “Although there are obvious differences between flies and humans, the basic building blocks of invertebrate and vertebrate nervous systems share a striking evolutionary conservation. These similarities suggest that the general principles discovered in circuits of the fruit fly will be highly relevant to somatosensory processing in other animals. A deeper understanding of proprioception has the potential to transform the way in which we treat proprioceptive and movement disorders.”

Watch a fascinating video introduction of this project!

May UWIN seminar: Short talks by Andre Berndt and Sam Burden

UWIN seminar May 2017 - speakers Andre Berndt and Sam BurdenUWIN’s May seminar features a fantastic pair of short talks by UWIN faculty Andre Berndt and Sam Burden:

  • “Engineering tools for optical monitoring and control of neuronal activity”
    Andre Berndt, Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington
  • “Predictive dynamical models for human sensorimotor control of teleoperated robots”
    Sam Burden, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Washington.

The seminar is on Wednesday, May 17th, at 3:30pm in Husky Union Building (HUB) 337.  Refreshments will be served prior to the talks.



“Engineering tools for optical monitoring and control of neuronal activity” (Andre Berndt):

Light activated channels and pumps are well-established, powerful tools for revealing the function of neuronal circuits in the field of optogenetics. Proteins such as channelrhodopsin and halorhodopsin had a groundbreaking impact on neuroscience research because they allow for precise control of specific neuronal populations even in freely moving animals. However, the application range of these tools is critically connected to their inherent biophysical properties. In my talk, I will describe how molecular engineering created proteins with novel features which allowed us to broaden the application range of optogenetics.

“Predictive dynamical models for human sensorimotor control of teleoperated robots” (Sam Burden):

Human interaction with the physical world is increasingly mediated by automation — planes assist pilots, robots assist surgeons, and cars assist drivers. To guarantee performance in such systems, we seek predictive models for the dynamic closed-loop interaction that takes place between humans and their semi-autonomous partners. Focusing on trajectory tracking in robot teleoperation, we hypothesize that operators learn to invert robot dynamics. This talk will present the resulting dynamic inverse model and preliminary results from experiments designed to test the model inversion hypothesis.

Camille Birch, UWIN undergraduate fellow, named one of 2017’s Husky 100!

Congratulations to UWIN undergraduate fellow Camille Birch, who was named one of the 2017 Husky 100!  Each year. the Husky 100 award “recognizes 100 UW undergraduate and graduate students from Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma in all areas of study who are making the most of their time at the UW” 

Students named to the Husky 100 “actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom and apply what they learn to make a difference on campus, in their communities and for the future. Through their passion, leadership and commitment, these students inspire all of us to shape our own Husky Experience.”

Camille says: “My work in neural engineering research has inspired me to pursue graduate school and a career in this field.  I also strongly believe that the scientific community should be as diverse as the communities for which we do research, and I am passionate about how engineering education could help promote the development of students who will become leaders working against prejudice and discrimination in STEM.”

Camille was awarded a UWIN undergraduate fellowship in 2016, to support her research in the lab of Eb Fetz.  Her research used the Neurochip-3, a powerful new head-mounted electrophysiology system, to investigate functional neural connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and the motor cortex. She is particularly interested in neural engineering research contributing to advances in rehabilitation medicine.

UWIN faculty member John Tuthill named 2017 Searle Scholar

UWIN faculty member John Tuthill has been named a 2017 Searle Scholar!  The Searle Scholars Program supports “exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry”, seeking out those with “the most creative talent” working on high-risk, high-reward projects.  His research investigates the “Transformation of Somatosensory Signals from Sensory Input to Motor Output.”  In addition to this honor, Dr. Tuthill was also recently awarded a prestigious Sloan Fellowship.

More information about the Searle Scholars program is at:

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