Director’s Channel – February 2020

IONs Director: Paul Katz

February may be the shortest month, but we have a lot going on. I am particularly pleased to be hosting this month’s Distinguished Neuroscience Lecture, Eve Marder. She has been a big influence on me and others in the field. In addition to the seminars, the Neuroscience & Behavior (NSB) Program is going to have its annual recruitment open house. We’re excited to meet the next class of PhD students. We also in the process of submitting an NSF  graduate training grant to support students in several graduate programs called Team Research in Biological Neurotechnology (TRiBioNT). If successful, it will help fund students in three life sciences graduate programs (NSB, OEB, MCB) and two engineering programs (ECE and MIE). There are several themes running through the proposal. One is to reintegrate Neuroscience more with other life-sciences graduate programs. Another is to engage engineers to build devices for studying the brain and to be inspired by not just the human brain, but the amazing neural computations that animals can do. 

Team Research in Biological Neurotechnology

For example, think about how much computing power is packed into the head of a fruitfly. It would be astounding to build miniature devices that could fly and maneuver the way a fly can.  Yet, knowledge is increasing faster than anyone can keep up with and tools are being developed at a dizzying rate. To effectively progress, we need to start training students to work in teams. Science has always been a cooperative venture; we openly share what we learn and depend upon others to share their knowledge. However, increasingly, it is more difficult to make progress working alone in a laboratory. Therefore, we have to think of ways to empower students to work as teams sharing expertise and going beyond what any one student working in one program could accomplish. Hopefully, this proposal will be successful, but even if it’s not, there will be other opportunities to work together across colleges to enhance our research potential in the neurosciences here at UMass.