Category: news (page 2 of 7)

PNAS paper on sensory integration from UWIN postdoctoral fellow Eatai Roth

hawkmoth-003UWIN postdoctoral fellow Eatai Roth, working in the lab of UWIN Co-director Tom Daniel, recently published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on how multiple types of sensory information are used by hawkmoths to govern flight behavior.  The paper, entitled “Integration of parallel mechanosensory and visual pathways resolved through sensory conflict”, describes work that investigated how moths combine sensory cues to follow the motion of wavering flowers while feeding.

While hovering in front of a flower, a feeding moth receives information about how the flower is moving from two sensory modalities: visual information from the eye and mechanosensory information from the proboscis in contact with the flower.  By building a two-part artificial flower that allows for independent manipulation of visual and mechanosensory cues, Roth et al. disentangled the contribution of each sensory modality to the moth’s flower-following behavior.  They found that the brain linearly sums information from the visual and mechanosensory domains to maintain this behavior. They further demonstrated that either sensory modality alone would be sufficient for this behavior, and this redundancy makes the behavior robust to changes in the availability of sensory information.

This work provides a better understanding of how multiple sensory modalities are used in nature to govern complex behaviors, and connects with the mission of the Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas (NIFTI).

This research was also featured in a UW Today article, “Tricking moths into revealing the computational underpinnings of sensory integration”.

Photo credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech

November UWIN seminar: Short talks by Ione Fine and Josh Smith

SmithJoshuaFineIoneUWIN’s November seminar features a pair of short talks by Ione Fine and Josh Smith:

  • “From pulse to percept: Modeling the perceptual experience of bionic vision”: Ione Fine, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Washington
  • “Battery-free wireless cameras: A platform for neurally inspired information processing research?”: Josh Smith, Associate Professor, Departments of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering, University of Washington

The seminar is on Wednesday, November 9th, at 3:30pm in Health Sciences Building K-069.  Click here for a map of the Health Sciences Building.  The K-wing is west of the Rotunda Cafe (I-Court).



“From pulse to percept: modeling the perceptual experience of bionic vision” (Ione Fine):

The field of bionic vision is making rapid progress; with three electronic implants approved for patients, and several others in development. However it is still very unclear what patients implanted with retinal prosthetics actually ‘see’. Here we present a full simulation of perceptual experience produced by the Second Sight Medical products epiretinal prosthesis, thereby creating a ‘virtual patient’. We show that the performance of this virtual patient is closely matched to data from real patients. Simulations such as these are likely to be critical for providing realistic estimates of prosthetic vision, providing regulatory bodies with guidance into what sort of visual tests are appropriate for evaluating prosthetic performance, and improving current and future technology.


“Battery-free wireless cameras: A platform for neurally inspired information processing research?” (Josh Smith):

I will present our lab’s most recent work on battery-free wireless cameras, which can perform simple image processing operations using local computation and which communicate using backscatter, a very low power wireless technique.  Visual processing can also be studied in biological systems.  Neural information processing is in general more energy efficient than conventional micro-electronic information processing.  Using this platform, we can potentially make task-level comparisons of the energy efficiency of neural and microelectronic visual information processing.  Taking inspiration from biology, can we find more energy efficient architectures for micro-electronic information processing?

Collaborative ‘Laboratory for Amplifying Motion and Performance’ established by UWIN faculty

 Rombokas_Eric SmallMortizChetBurdenSamTSteeleKathe UW College of Engineering and School of Medicine have jointly established a shared Laboratory for Amplifying Motion and Performance (AMP Lab) directed by Kat Steele (Mechanical Engineering/UWIN), Sam Burden (Electrical Engineering/UWIN), and Val Kelly (Rehabilitation Medicine). This state-of-the-art collaboratory will enable experiments with clinical and research populations interacting with autonomous and semi-autonomous machines.  Together with Chet Moritz (Rehabilitation Medicine/UWIN) and Eric Rombokas (Mechanical Engineering/ VA/UWIN), this team also received a Strategic Research Initiative award from the College of Engineering to fund an AMP Center that will mentor interdisciplinary working groups and organize workshops in the Lab.

These joint ventures envision a future where:

  • Neurophysiological trauma and disease are diagnosed automatically (and, when possible, preemptively);
  • Monitoring and intervention are conducted continuously within and outside the clinic;
  • Personalized assistive devices ranging from exoskeletons to co-robots mitigate disability and enhance ability of all individuals.

For more information, visit the AMP Lab website at:

October UWIN seminar: Short talks by Bing Brunton and David Gire

GireDavidWBruntonBingith the start of the school year comes the resumption of UWIN’s seminar series!  The first seminar of the year is an exciting pair of short talks by UWIN faculty Bing Brunton and David Gire:

  • “Neural inspired sparse sensors”: Bing Brunton, Washington Research Foundation Innovation Assistant Professor in Neuroengineering, Department of Biology, University of Washington
  • “Navigation across spatial scales”: David Gire, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Washington

The seminar is on Wednesday, October 12th, at 3:30pm in Health Sciences Building K-069.  Click here for a map of the Health Sciences Building.  The K-wing is west of the Rotunda Cafe (I-Court).



“Neural inspired sparse sensors” (Bing Brunton):

Biological organisms are remarkably adept at interacting with high-dimensional physical systems in nature, yet they sometimes rely on information gathered through only a handful of sensory organs. This strikingly efficient sensory-motor performance is possible in part because natural signals are inherently compressible, having relatively low-dimensional features underlying high-dimensional dynamics. Our approach to understanding this sensory-motor transformation combines insights from compressed sensing, techniques from dimensionality reduction, and feature extraction inspired by neurophysiological recordings.

“Navigation across spatial scales”
(David Gire):

Optimally integrating real-time data from noisy sensors with probabilistic knowledge of the current state of the environment is one of the great challenges in the development of autonomous robotic systems.  Fortunately, this problem also represents a major source of selective pressure across numerous animal species, resulting in brains that have evolved to efficiently utilize noisy sensory cues to navigate dynamic environments.  To test how animal brains address these challenges under naturalistic conditions we have developed a fully-automated open field arena that gives us precise control over both stimulus delivery and the entire history of an animal’s interaction with its environment.  I will discuss results from a first set of experiments that used this system to investigate how memory influences odor-guided searches for food in turbulent flow.

Video on dynamic brain workshop

We recently posted reflections on the Dynamic Brain workshop co-hosted by the UW and the Allen Institute for Brain Science this summer at Friday Harbor labs.  Below, watch a great video about the workshop!

2016 WRF Innovation Graduate Fellowships in Neuroengineering awarded

We are pleased to announce that four exceptional University of Washington graduate students have been awarded 2016 Washington Research Foundation Innovation Graduate Fellowships in Neuroengineering: David Caldwell (Bioengineering), Phil Mardoum (Neuroscience), Thomas Mohren (Mechanical Engineering), and Claire Rusch (Biology). Read about the new fellows and their research below:

caldwell David Caldwell is an M.D./Ph.D student in Bioengineering working with Rajesh Rao in Computer Science & Engineering and Jeffrey Ojemann in Neurological Surgery. His research focuses broadly on neural connectivity and processing. Specifically, his work aims to enhance neural connectivity through electrical cortical stimulation and characterizing the cortical response to stimulation in human patients implanted with electrocorticographic grids in preparation for epilepsy surgery. David received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan. He is a joint fellow of UWIN and the Big Data for Genomics & Neuroscience (BDGN) Training Grant, and is an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) scholar.
mardoum Philip Mardoum is a Ph.D. student in the Neuroscience program working in the labs of Fred Rieke in Physiology and Biophysics and Rachel Wong in Biological Structure. His research focuses on sensory coding in micro-circuits of the retina, and how multiple distinct information streams can be processed in parallel within the same circuitry. He received a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Chicago.
mohren Thomas Mohren is a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering working with Steve Brunton in Mechanical Engineering and Tom Daniel in Biology. He is interested in how animals use mechanosensory arrays to make fast and robust control decisions. He uses computational models, sparse sensing techniques and neurophysiological approaches to study hawk moth flight control, with the aim of uncovering generalizable principles in biology that can inspire novel engineering solutions. Thomas received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. He is co-funded by UWIN and the Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas (NIFTI, and was a recipient of a 2014-2015 Fulbright scholarship.
rusch Claire Rusch is a Ph.D. student in Biology working in Jeff Riffell’s lab. Her research interests focus on the how the environment shapes and is processed by the nervous system to control motor responses and behavior. Specifically, her project aims to better understand the neural circuits and processing of visual information and memory in honeybees– an attractive system for learning because of its robust behaviors and relatively simplified neuroanatomy that permits neurophysiological recording from identifiable neurons. Claire received a master’s degree in Neuroscience, Behavior and Cognition from Paul Sabatier University, France. She is co-funded by UWIN and the Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas (NIFTI).

2016 UWIN Retreat, visualizing collaboration

UWIN recently held a one-day retreat for all UWIN-affiliated faculty members.  At the retreat, discussions were facilitated on the mission and vision of UWIN, how UWIN can pursue excellence in neuroengineering at the University of Washington, and what future opportunities exist.

As part of retreat preparations, faculty reported with which UWIN labs they collaborate.  Those connections are visualized in the image below, and show the breadth and depth of collaboration amongst UWIN-affiliated labs!


Multiple UWIN faculty featured in College of Arts and Sciences articles

Research by a number of UWIN faculty members was recently featured in articles by the College of Arts and Science’s ‘Perspectives’ Newsletter:

  • bio_bingbrunton_450Bing Brunton, the Washington Research Foundation Innovation Assistant Professor in Neuroengineering, was featured in the article “The Brain, By the Numbers”.  Her research uses computational and mathematical approaches to analyze large sets of neural data.
  • An experiment that allowed two people in different locations to communicate brain-to-brain, developed by Chantel Prat, Andrea Stocco, and Raj Rao , was featured in the article “Playing Mind Games, for Science”.
  • Jason Yeatman’s research on better understanding dyslexia by using MRI technology to investigate changes in brain structure and connectivity was described in the article “Decoding Dyslexia”.

UWIN postdoctoral fellowship leads to successful collaborative grant award

UWIN faculty Emily Fox and Adrian KC Lee have been awarded an NSF Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS) grant, inspired by work supported by a joint UWIN-eScience postdoctoral fellowship. The grant, “Modeling of Interacting Time Series to Discover Cortical Networks Associated with Auditory Processing Dysfunction”, grew out of the research of UWIN postdoctoral fellow Dr. Nick Foti, who is jointly mentored by Professors Fox and Lee.

The funded project aims to better understand connectivity in the brain as it relates to disorders of auditory attention. Many cognitive disorders, such as (central) auditory processing disorder (C)APD, are thought to arise due to abnormalities in the underlying communication network in the brain. Inferring these communication networks from non-invasive neuroimaging data in both healthy and clinical populations will further the understanding of how the brain is wired to perform tasks that are seemingly mundane but are still challenging for state-of-the-art computers, e.g., separating one voice out of a crowd. Furthermore, these discoveries can lead to the development of therapies and assistive devices for individuals affected by these disorders. The goal of this funded project is to develop statistical methodology and machine learning methods that capture both time- and frequency-varying functional connections in the brain underlying auditory attention. Additionally, they will collect a comprehensive data set from a clinical population of individuals with (C)APD consisting of electro- and mageneto-encephalography, as well as behavioral measures with which to study the functional networks underlying (C)APD.

More information about the funded research can be found at the NSF website.

UWIN Co-Director Adrienne Fairhall helps bring light to gender bias in conference panels

Triggered by a series of conference listings with all-male or nearly all-male speaker lineups, Princeton neuroscientist Yael Niv roused a group of colleagues to action: UWIN Co-Director Adrienne Fairhall quickly launched a website,, which Yael and the group use to track and post speaker lists at conferences and compare with “base rates” in the field. This effort was the subject of a recent article in the New York Times, “Female Scientists Turn to Data to Fight Lack of Representation on Panels”.

Another contributor, Anne Churchland, maintains a list of women scientists – initiated while she was a postdoc at UW – to assist conference organizers to identify women speakers in different subject areas.  The list is at:

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