UWIN faculty member Jeff Riffell, alongside UWIN Co-director Adrienne Fairhall and others, published a paper in Current Biology: “Visual-Olfactory Integration in the Human Disease Vector Mosquito Aedes aegypti“. The paper focuses on mosquito’s integration of various sensory cues to find and track their hosts.
As mosquitoes buzz around searching for their next target, they receive a multitude of signals from the environment. These signals include scents, sights, and environmental heats, which the mosquito must processes in order to locate the most viable target. The Riffell lab worked to determine the interaction between two of the previously unconnected senses, sight and smell.
To track the wing movements during flight, researchers placed mosquitoes in an enclosed space with an optical sensor. Researchers then mimicked human breath and movement with triggered puffs of CO2 infused air and a moving bar. The mosquitoes moved to both the air and the motion, but more dramatically to the motion after receiving a CO2 puff. This experiment was repeated with mosquitoes whose central nervous system cells glowed when firing. Neural data showed both the puff of CO2 and the motion triggered the cells. Stimulus order changed the scale of the reaction, as only bar motion after the CO2 puff caused an increase in cell firing. As Dr. Riffell states, “Smell triggers vision, but vision does not trigger the sense of smell.”
Dr. Riffell hopes scientists can gain a better understanding of how mosquitos feed, and develop new methods of bite prevention. Identifying how mosquitoes track their hosts may lead to the ideal prevention strategy.
Steve Brunton, a UWIN faculty member, received the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The United States Government bestows the PECASE as the highest honor to “scientists and engineers show exceptional promise for leadership”. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy receives and reviews recommendations from governmental agencies who support the scientist’s work. Nine agencies have the ability to offer recommendations, including the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.
Dr. Brunton is a mechanical engineer whose research focuses on data-driven modeling and control of complex systems, such as studying how turbulent fluids behave. Brunton was nominated for his work on using machine learning to develop efficient models that accurately describe the complexities of fluid mechanics. These models will then be used in part for designing better aircraft and more efficient energy systems.
Research by UWIN faculty member David Gire and emeritus UWIN post-baccalaureate fellow Dominic Sivitilli is featured on Science Friday as part of the Cephalopod Week spotlight! Science Friday is a weekly radio show distributed by WNYC and is available in podcast format for listening.
Gire and Sivitilli’s research focuses on the unique spread of neurons over the body of the octopus. In a human, the brain houses most of the sensing and decision making neurons, but in an octopus the eight arms contains two-thirds of these neurons. This distribution changes how the octopus can process decisions. In a classical distribution of neural activity, a central location, usually a brain, collects external information and makes decisions for the entire animal. Conversely, in an octopus, each neuron-heavy section of a tentacle makes many minor decisions independently, which may not necessarily agree with the decisions of other tentacles. By tracking the movement of each section of tentacle, researchers can draw insight from this neuron distribution.
Future research combines three dimensional tracking of tentacle movement with real-time neurological data from an implant in the octopus’s brain. This exploration will help determine how octopuses control their arms, or to what extent their arms work independently. The researchers hope that the observation can bring light to how a different neural structure can affect the sensory capabilities of a creature.
We are excited to announce that John Tuthill, a UWIN faculty member, has been selected to join the 2019 Pew Scholars Program in Biomedical Sciences. The Pew Charitable Trusts funds the scholars program, committing to “investing in scholars at the beginning stages of their careers”.
The Pew Scholars program chose John Tuthill alongside twenty one other researchers from all over the United States. The program hopes to “answer some of the most pressing questions surrounding human health and disease”. Dr. Tuthill’s current research focuses on the adaptability of animal’s body sensing and movement abilities.
His research involves modifying the gait of fruit flies as they walk on tiny treadmills and learn to avoid obstacles . By manually changing when the proprioceptor – limb control – neurons activate, the flies’ gait can also be modified. Modifying the neural activity cause the flies’ gait to change, which then causes the flies’ fine motor control system to adapt. This adaption allows the flies to retrain their motor control neurons to work even in non-ideal circumstances. Dr. Tuthill hopes the work into fly neuron adaptation aids therapeutic efforts for nerve injury in humans.
UWIN graduate fellow Thomas Mohren and UWIN faculty Bing Brunton, Steve Brunton, and Tom Daniel published a paper in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) on how flying insects can detect changes in their flight patterns using only a few complex sensors. In order to navigate quickly in complex situations, insects require rapid feedback from the multitude of sensors found on their wings, antennae, and other body parts. The paper, titled “Neural-inspired sensors enable sparse, efficient classification of spatiotemporal data,” describes how insects use both the location of the sensors and the temporal history of the wing motions to sense body rotations.
The researchers use computer models to investigate how insect sensors help detect disturbances. They found a few vital pieces in the insects intake and processing mechanisms. The temporal filter, which modifies environmental inputs with relation to the history of the wings, alongside a non-linear transformation of the received signal at every sensor was crucial for the detection of rotations. These two input modifications, as well as the precise layout of sensors across the wing made it so only a few sensors were required for this detection. The group of researchers believe the principle of neural encoding and sparse placement of sensors hold promise for man-made system. they are now working to implement biologically inspired sensors into robotic platforms.
UWIN faculty member and Washington Research Foundation (WRF) Innovation Assistant Professor in Neuroengineering Azadeh Yazdan published a paper in eLIFE on how brain stimulation changes the ability of neurons to activate and encourage a learning state. The paper titled “Target cortical reorganization using optogenetics in non-human primates” describes investigations into the large-scale connections between brain regions, testing if the relationship between regions become stronger or weaker with varied stimulation.
When people preform everyday actions, connections occur between the sensory and motor areas in the brain. As this action happens more often, those connections becomes stronger. Strengthening connections allow us to learn new skills, and may be key to relearning skills lost due to a brain injury. While many studies have addressed this idea in individual neurons, the importance of strengthened connections can also be expanded to brain regions. Yazdan used a type of virus with the ability to embed light-sensitive proteins into neurons to modify the neurons of macaque monkeys. This allows for researchers to specifically activate certain neurons in the brain, isolating desired regions for connectivity and investigation. Using a concentrated light, researchers activated small regions of tissue within the brain and measured the activity of the regions electronically, displaying the reaction of the regions. While much of the brain followed the assumption that co-activation strengthens connections between brain areas, smaller brain regions had more variability, with some connections becoming weaker overall.
Using the understanding gained through these experiments, researchers can continue to refine therapies that use brain stimulation, such as those used in Parkinson’s disease. Researchers hope to use the brain’s natural learning and growing process to cure or recover from neurological illness and traumas.
Join us in welcoming UWIN’s newest undergraduate and post-baccalaureate fellows! Nine undergraduate students and six post-baccalaureate researchers were awarded 2019 UWIN Fellowships. You can read all about their exciting research below, and follow the links to see all of UWIN’s undergraduate and post-baccalaureate fellows.
2019 UWIN Undergraduate Fellows
Manjari Anant (2019 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Bioengineering, working with Samira Moorjani in the Physiology and Biophysics department. Manjari’s research focuses on a novel neural stimulation technique called movement-triggered stimulation. She is investigating whether movement-triggered stimulation modulates neuronal connectivity differently based on the original strength of the synaptic connection. If movement-triggered stimulation can strengthen cortical connections, it would have implications in aiding individuals with decreased motor function due to injury, disease or age.
Makoto Eyre (2019 Fellow) is a post-baccalaureate undergraduate student in Mechanical Engineering with a background in architecture (Rhode Island School of Design, Bachelor of Architecture 2014). Working with Kat Steele and Michael Rosenberg of the Ability & Innovation Lab in Mechanical Engineering, Makoto’s research focuses on comparing motor coordination strategies (muscle synergies) employed by the human body during steady state and non-steady state modes of walking, and the effects that the mechanical properties of ankle foot orthoses (AFOs) have on them. The goal of this research is to inform AFO customization for neuromuscular rehabilitation, potentially yielding prescriptions that are optimal across a broader set of daily activities. After his time at the UW, Makoto aims to utilize neuromuscular and biomechanical methods of examining human motion to inform human habitation of outer space.
Nathaniel Linden (2019 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Bioengineering with a minor in Applied Mathematics. He is working with Bing Brunton in the Biology Department. Nathaniel’s research focuses on applying computational techniques to study cortical development in the brain using mouse models. His current project involves developing an analysis pipeline to model neural activity from wide-field calcium imaging data of the developing mouse cortex.
Jon Luntzel (2019 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Computer Science who is working with Michael Beyeler in Psychology and Ariel Rokem in the eScience Institute. Jon’s research focuses on computational models for retinal implants. This research will help clarify how visual aids create visual percepts and progress towards restoring useful vision. Jon intends to contribute a submodule for simulating percepts of subretinal prostheses that interface with the bipolar layer in the retina.
Amanuel Mamo (2019 fellow) is an undergraduate student in Mechanical Engineering working with Tom Daniel in the Biology department. Amanuel is collaborating with Melanie Anderson on the “Smellicopter” project, a bio-inspired odor-guided micro-air vehicle. He is using Robot Operating System (ROS) and controls associated with micro-scale quadrotors to enhance the capabilities of this odor tracking air vehicle.
Kathryn Stangret (2019 fellow) is an undergraduate student intending on majoring in Neuroscience and Bioengineering. She is working with Jeff Ojemann and Courtnie Paschall in the department of Neurosurgery. Kathryn’s research involves analyzing the frequency content of resting state electrocorticography (ECoG) data from people is epilepsy. She is working to determine what connections there are between the frequency domain and the microelectrophysiology studies of epileptic tissue in the brain.
Nicholas Thomas (2019 fellow) is a Bioengineering undergraduate student working with Amy Orsborn in Electrical & Computer Engineering and Bioengineering. Nicholas’ work focuses on implementing real time markerless motion tracking for the study of hand kinematics. This research will help facilitate the study of learning relating to high dimensional movements and object manipulation. Nicholas intends to pursue a Master’s degree in bioengineering upon graduation. Outside of research, he enjoys exploring his passions of both the culinary arts and ceramics.
Joey Ullmann (2019 Fellow) is an undergraduate student in Biology and Psychology working with David Gire in the Laboratory of Comparative Systems Neuroscience. Joey’s research investigates how the integration of octopus sucker mechanical sensory information delegated along the length of an arm modulates the intensity and pattern of localized muscle activity during foraging and exploration. His goal is to derive a model based on localized mechanical sensorimotor feedback loops, which will be informed by the observed patterns of activity within the nerve cord.
Maximilian Walter (2019 Fellow) is an undergraduate student in the Bioengineering department working with Rajiv Saigal in the Neurological Surgery department. Max’s research focuses on developing biodegradable microneedle arrays for controlled drug delivery for the treatment of spinal cord injury. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he intends to pursue a Masters in Bioengineering at the University of Washington.
2019 UWIN Post-baccalaureate Fellows
Sufia Ahmad (2019 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with Beth Buffalo in the Physiology and Biophysics department. Sufia is conducting simultaneous electrophysiological recordings from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe in awake behaving non-human primates to understand how neurological systems are affected by aging. By using behavioral tasks based on those used in human studies that are sensitive to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, she hopes this work may be translated into early diagnostic and treatment therapies for patients with memory deficit disorders. Sufia graduated from Seattle University where she received a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology..
Evyn Dickinson (2019 Fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with John Tuthill in Physiology and Biophysics and Bing Brunton in Biology. Evyn’s research focuses on the neural circuitry involved in Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) locomotion. He uses optogenetics to manipulate and characterize sensorimotor integration during walking and turning behavior. Evyn graduated from Bowdoin College with Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and French.
Isabelle Hua (2019 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with Steve Perlmutter in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. Isabelle’s research focuses on the use of activity-dependent epidural stimulation in humans to induce spike-timing dependent plasticity to improve motor function recovery following a spinal cord injury. Isabelle attended the University of Washington where she received Bachelor’s degrees in Biochemistry and Neuroscience with departmental Honors.
Briana Smith (2019 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with Andrea Stocco and Lori Zoellner in the Psychology department. Briana is investigating emotional trauma and the associated maladaptive cognitive and behavioral conditions that often follow. She is developing a computational model of intrusive memory retrieval patterns symptomatic of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The model aims to follow PTSD recovery curves and accurately represent the neural correlates of intrusive memory retrieval by incorporating individual moderating factors, such as trauma severity, environmental stress, and personal history. Briana graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering.
Gg Tran(2019 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with Ione Fine and Geoffrey Boynton in the Department of Psychology. Gg’s research uses fMRI data to model the population receptive field (pRF) in people with visual impairments. The goal is to improve estimation of the neural pRF, and subsequently to better predict differences in neural activity in people with normal vision versus in those with vision impairments. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Applied Mathematics at the University of Washington.
Willem Weertman (2019 fellow) is a post-baccalaureate researcher working with David Gire in the Laboratory of Comparative Systems Neuroscience in the Psychology department. Willem’s research is focused on understanding how chemical information is integrated within the octopus sucker. The goal of this work is to build a model of chemosensory motor feedback loops within the arm of the octopus. Weertman graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s of science in Oceanography with a minor in Marine Biology and will begin as a graduate student at Alaska Pacific University in the fall of 2019.
The UWIN seminar series continues in May with a pair of short talks by Kameron Decker Harris and Jeff Ojemann. The seminar is on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at 3:30pm in Husky Union Builiding (HUB) 337. Refreshments will be served prior to the talks.
” Machine theories of animal learning ” Kameron Decker Harris, Postdoctoral Fellow, Departments of Computer Science & Engineering and Biology, University of Washington
“Cortical plasticity when interfacing with a brain-computer interface” Jeff Ojemann, Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Washington
Recent work in computational neuroscience highlights the importance of understanding the roles of the “dimensionality” of neural representations. We have some clues that compressing or expanding dimensionality is useful for tasks such as noise removal or learning. I will present a roadmap of my current research, which uses statistical learning theory to explain how dimensionality controls the variance of a neural circuit that carries out associative learning. This theory is well-suited to explaining the functioning of mostly feed-forward neural circuits, such as the mushroom body and cerebellum.
“Cortical plasticity when interfacing with a brain-computer interface” (Jeff Ojemann)
Both motor and sensory cortex have been used to interact with artificial limbs in neuroprosthetic research. Learning occurs during this interaction and results in fascinating changes within the native cortical maps. The changes in both motor and remote cortex during the performance of a brain-computer interface show remarkable remapping in a short time frame. Electrical stimulation of sensory cortex is equally rapidly incorporated into the body representation. Implications for future neuroprosthetics will be discussed.
The focus of this research is on the ability of flying animals to acquire information about the environment and make tiny adjustments with small amounts of data. The researchers look to mimic this ability in algorithms and robotics. Many flying animals have strict constraints on size, weight, and computing power, but can still make precise adjustments with large amounts of environmental data. Brunton is looking to use inspiration from flying animals to work on the flying ability in tiny robots by reducing the amount of data imputed through use of specialized hardware alongside sparse neuronal computations. By investigating the flight constraints and the neural response, the project strives to have broad impacts in designing efficient sensor networks, performing adaptive control of complex systems, and achieving agile flight sensing and control.
Bing Brunton, a Washington Research Foundation Innovation Assistant Professor and UWIN faculty member in Neuroengineering, was featured in a recent College of Arts and Sciences newsletter. The article, titled “What Insects can Teach us about Data,” was published in March of 2019.
Brunton researches the ability of flying insects to make tiny but critical adjustments with small amounts of data. She is specifically working to develop a sparse sensor algorithm to mimic sensors on the wings of a hawk moth. These tiny mechanoreceptor neurons on the moth wings allow the moth to track environmental impacts such as wind and adjust the wings accordingly. By understanding how the these neurons are able to take in data, process it, and produce micro-adjustments in real time, Brunton hopes to determine how to mimic this process artificially.