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U. looks to expand research in computational neuroscience

Researchers intend to use computerized mathematical models to illuminate biological and cognitive processes

Founded under the Brown Institute for Brain Science, the Initiative for Computation in Brain and Mind is aiming to strengthen the profile of computational neuroscience at Brown.

Computational neuroscience focuses on using computer-based mathematical models of the brain and mind, as well as computer science techniques for analyzing data, said Michael Frank, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences and co-founder of the initiative.

Computers allow researchers to perform complex simulations of brain activity and help link biological processes in the brain to cognitive processes of the mind, according to the initiative’s website. Links of this kind can be used to analyze the biological processes behind mental illness and can prove instrumental in developing treatments for these conditions.

Various branches of the initiative examine different aspects of brain processes to give a more complete picture of the brain. For example, computational cognitive science models the mind and behavior, while computational linguistics builds models of language, said Thomas Serre, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences and another co-founder.

Research in this area spans the departments of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, neuroscience, applied mathematics, computer science, neurosurgery, biostatistics and engineering, according to the initiative’s website.

Serre and Frank said they hope to strengthen and formalize this broad and interdisciplinary research community.

Though Brown is home to a variety of computational brain-related research projects, there was not a coherent center for them until Serre, Frank and Professor of Neuroscience David Sheinberg founded the initiative one year ago, Frank told the Herald.

The founders plan to increase the visibility of Brown’s computational neuroscience research through the organization of several seminar series and workshops on the topic.

The initiative is also hosting a Neural Decoding Competition open to the Brown community. Participants will be given scans of a person’s brain waves and will have to use computer algorithms to deduce what the person was looking at or thinking about.

“We hope to engage the community as much as possible through these talks and also through hands-on activities,” Sheinberg said.

Students, a focal point of the initiative, will benefit from the expertise of a number of different faculty across different disciplines, Frank said.

“Theoretical approaches to the brain are a matter of intense undergraduate interest at Brown,” said Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences James Anderson. “Brown is a great place for such interdisciplinary work.”

By building a strong community of people passionate and aware of this topic, the initiative hopes to “eventually recruit the brightest minds in the field for faculty and students,” Frank said.

“We would like Brown to be one of the first places that comes to mind when people think about computational neuroscience,” Serre said.


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