Category: news (page 2 of 8)

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:

April UWIN seminar: Melina Hale, University of Chicago

UWIN’s April seminar features a talk by visiting speaker Melina Hale from the University of Chicago’s Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy.

Her talk is entitled: “Mechanosensation by deformable biological structures and its role in behavior”

The seminar is on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 3:30pm in Husky Union Building (HUB) 337.  Refreshments will be served prior to the talk.


Abstract: My lab examines the mechanosensation and movement of fish fins and bodies, flexible structures that power locomotion and function in a range of other behaviors. We examine morphology and physiology of mechanosensory neurons, neural circuit structure, biomechanics, and locomotor movements to determine how mechanosensation modulates movement. We also compare mechanosensation across species to explore its evolution. I will discuss these projects and how they are informing our approach to the mechanosensory design of engineered, deformable structures.

March UWIN seminar: Short talks by Beth Buffalo and Matt Reynolds

UWIN’s March seminar features a pair of short talks by Beth Buffalo and Matt Reynolds:

  • “Advances and challenges in large-scale neuronal recordings from the primate brain”Beth Buffalo, Professor, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington
  • “Electromagnetics Meets Biology”Matt Reynolds, Associate Professor, Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington

The seminar is on Wednesday, March 8th, at 3:30pm in Husky Union Building (HUB) 337.  Refreshments will be served prior to the talks.



“Advances and challenges in large-scale neuronal recordings from the primate brain” (Beth Buffalo):

While it has long been recognized that medial temporal lobe structures are important for memory formation, studies in rodents have also identified exquisite spatial representations in these regions in the form of place cells in the hippocampus and grid cells in the entorhinal cortex.  Spatial representations entail neural activity that is observed when the rat is in a given physical location, and these representations are thought to form the basis of navigation via path integration.  However, our understanding of similar representations in the primate brain is limited. In this talk, I will discuss ongoing work from my laboratory involving chronic, large-scale recordings throughout the primate hippocampus while monkeys navigate through virtual environments, with the overarching goal of furthering our understanding of the function of the hippocampus and the nature of the cognitive map.

“Electromagnetics Meets Biology” (Matt Reynolds):

This talk will demystify some of the engineering challenges faced by designers of wireless devices that must function in and around animals. Motivated by example bio/electronic systems ranging from a tiny wireless backpack for neural recording in flying dragonflies, to a wireless real-time neural recording uplink for neuroscience research in non-human primates, I will discuss key questions such as, “How much power can we safely transfer through biological tissue?” and “How fast can we get data out of the brain?” I will explain the design process for on-body and in-body power and data communication networks, and present some ideas for the cyborgs of the future.

UWIN faculty member John Tuthill awarded prestigious Sloan Fellowship

UWIN faculty member John Tuthill has been awarded a prestigious early-career fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  These fellowships “honor those early-career scholars whose achievements mark them as the next generation of scientific leaders”

Publicity on John’s exception achievement is below:

UWIN industry panel on starting companies on 2/15

On February 15, 2017, UWIN will host an industry panel on starting companies, featuring:

  • Chris Diorio, UW Associate Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and CEO and Founder of Impinj, a developer of RFID technology.
  • Carlos Guestrin, UW Amazon Professor of Machine Learning in Computer Science & Engineering and Director of Machine Learning at Apple.  He is the founder of Turi (formerly Dato, Inc.) and GraphLab, a machine learning modeling tool for developers and data scientists.
  • Chris Own, founder of Voxa, an advanced electron optics manufacturing firm focused on transforming analytical nanoscale imaging.  He is also the founder of Ack! Industries.

Students, postdocs, faculty, and staff from all backgrounds are invited to attend!  Panelists will talk about their path to and experience with startup companies and take your questions.

The panel is on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 3:30pm in the Husky Union Building (HUB) room 340.  Refreshments will be served prior to the panel.

Please note: Eli Shlizerman was originally scheduled as part of the panel but is no longer able to participate.

Applications open for 2017 UWIN undergraduate and post-baccalaureate fellowships

Applications are now open for the 2017 WRF Innovation Undergraduate and Post-baccalaureate Fellowships in Neuroengineering.   Applications are due by Friday, March 10, 2017.  These fellowships provide up to $6000 to support undergraduate and post-baccalaureate researchers committed to working in UWIN faculty labs.  More information about these fellowships can be found in the links below:

Highlights from the 2017 Neural Computation and Engineering Connection

The 2017 Neural Computation and Engineering Connection took place on January 19-20, 2017, and UWIN postdoctoral fellow Michael Beyeler wrote up an excellently thorough summary of all of the talks given.  Read about it at:

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