Director’s Channel – June 2022

Paul Katz
IONs Director, Paul Katz

The Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference that we held in person last week was a great success. We had over 100 people register. The talks and posters generated a lot of discussion. This week we are continuing the theme of Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence with two hands-on workshops to learn how to use MATLAB to apply Machine Learning techniques to neuroscience data. We are also pleased to announce the recipients of the Inspiration Awards. These graduate students and postdocs truly are inspirations in how they are working across neuroscience, engineering, and computer science in innovative and creative ways. Please take a moment to look at the projects that they proposed. My hope is that these trainees will help lead UMass to the next level of neuroscience research that is truly interdisciplinary.

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Director’s Channel – May 2022

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

I’m excited that we will be holding the first in-person UMass Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference in three years on Thursday, May 26th in the Student Union Ballroom. We have two outstanding keynote speakers, Irina Rish and Tatyana Sharpee who each approach the intersection of Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence from different angles. In addition, we will have five UMass speakers and over 30 posters from researchers at UMass. The merging of the fields of biological and machine learning is an exciting new direction.

We had a great response to our call for Inspiration Award proposals. We received twenty proposals from graduate students and postdocs in ten departments across four colleges for research projects at the interface of neuroscience and either engineering or computer sciences. We will announce the winners of the awards at the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference.

I am also excited to announce that we will be hosting a two-part hands-on workshop by MathWorks on Thursday June 2nd to help researchers use MATLAB to apply Machine Learning to data analysis. We will have a listen and learn informational session on Thursday May 26th at 11am just before the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of you later this month.

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Director’s Channel – April 2022

Paul Katz
IONs Director, Paul Katz

We had a great response to the IONs Inspiration Award Competition. We received twenty applications from students and postdocs in seven departments across three colleges. We have assembled a panel of reviewers and will announce the winners next month.

Don’t forget to register to present a poster at this year’s UMass Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference. The deadline for registration is April 22nd. The conference will take place on Thursday May 26th. We have two outstanding keynote speakers as well as UMass speakers.

We are planning to host a workshop prior to the conference on the use of MATLAB for AI analysis. We could still use your input to help shape that workshop. Please fill out this brief survey to let us know what you would like to get out of the workshop.

If you missed Friday’s April Fools Day announcement, check out it out here. Don’t miss the SpongeBob SquarePants reference.

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Director’s Channel – March 2022

Paul Katz
IONs Director, Paul Katz

I am very excited to announce that after a two year hiatus we will once again host the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference. This year, the talks will be focused on the interface between Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence. There will be two outside speakers and five UMass faculty speakers. In addition, as before, we will have an evening poster session. UMass has a historical strength in reinforcement learning. This conference will be a chance for Neuroscientists, Computer Scientists, and Engineers to learn from each other. The conference also dovetails with the IONs Inspiration Awards for Neuroscience & Technology, which is an opportunity for UMass graduate students and postdocs to receive funding for research proposals that use new technology or employ existing methodologies in new ways to address problems in neuroscience or problems inspired by neuroscience. The deadline for application is March 25th.

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Director’s Channel – February 2022

Paul Katz

Regardless of what some groundhog might have seen today, I’m convinced that spring is around the corner. There is so much activity in the Neurosciences that I can feel the community coming back alive after the isolation of the pandemic. This month, Guoping Feng, the Director of the McGovern Institute at MIT will deliver the first in-person Distinguished Neuroscience Lecture in almost two years. Plans are underway to once again hold a UMass Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Conference. This year, the theme will be Neuroscience and AI, which is emerging as an important intersectional field. I am really pleased to announce the Inspiration Awards, which is an opportunity for graduate students and postdocs to propose research that reaches across neuroscience, engineering, and computer science. UMass has tremendous untapped potential. It is our premise that the trainees can help lead the way to future collaborations. Yes, spring is in the air even if there is snow on the ground.

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Director’s Channel – January 2022

Paul Katz
IONs director, Paul Katz

The 19th century physicist, Johann Philipp Gustav von Jolly, is quoted as telling Max Planck “…in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes.” Ironically, Planck’s work would help move the field from Newtonian dynamics to Quantum physics. I am fond of saying that neuroscience is in its Newtonian phase; we know all of the parts and how they work. We can explain how photons excite opsins in photoreceptors and how retinal ganglion cells convey the information to the thalamus and how it is transformed in cortex. We know how shapes and colors are encoded by the firing of particular neurons in particular parts of the brain. But we fail to have an explanation about how that activity causes you to have the experience you are having. We don’t know why red has a different quality from blue.

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Director’s Channel – December 2021

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

The Neuroscience community at UMass is coming back to life after isolation during the pandemic. It was great to see the breadth of research at the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Poster Conference last month. As we approach 2022, my hope is that we can again have more in-person events. This fall, we held two faculty forums to identify and strengthen interdisciplinary neuroscience research. IONs will be awarding seed grants this year to pursue some of the research areas emerging from these meetings. Stay tuned for more information.

November 2021 Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Poster Conference.
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Director’s channel – Fall 2021

Paul Katz, IONs Director

Excuse me, it’s been a while since I have written; there have been technical difficulties in putting out the newsletter. But frankly, I was feeling malaise after the initial hope in June that the pandemic was over. I’m allowing myself to feel hopeful again as the case numbers continue to decrease and the vaccination rate continues to rise. We are having in-person seminars again and it feels great to be in the presence of people and have those little unplanned conversations, which are so important in science. To help those along, I’m excited that we’ll be hosting an Interdisciplinary Neuroscience, Computer Science, & Engineering Poster Conference on Tuesday, November 2nd. Researchers from three colleges will be meeting and sharing their work and getting to know one another to build collaborations. Much of the future of neuroscience lies in collaborative team science that incorporates the skills and expertise of computer scientists and engineers. To build the bridges across disciplines, we have started a series of faculty forums to allow faculty meet and find the threads that can be woven together into new and interesting patterns. I’m excited to see what new ideas emerge from these.

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Director’s Channel – May 2021

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

As the semester draws to a close, we are starting to think about a non-virtual world again. Over half the population of Massachusetts has now received at least one dose of the vaccine. UMass will be requiring all students to be vaccinated before returning in the fall when classes will once again be face-to-face. I am looking forward to seeing students and colleagues again. However, I hope that the “normal” that we return to after the pandemic is a more enlightened one than the one we had before.

It has been a very difficult year with the pandemic, the insurrection at the Capitol, and the public murder of George Floyd and other people of color. The continued trauma from structural racism led to a groundswell of activism this year. Here at UMass, NSB student Wayne Barnaby helped lead that activism, by initiating a petition to the administration. He was recognized for his leadership by a College Award for Excellence. NSB faculty member Karine Fénelon was also recognized with this award for the leadership role that she played this year in the racial reckoning on campus. I wish that they did not need to devote energy to this issue; I wish that we could be celebrating their science instead of their activism. But, this important work is what will lead us to a new, more enlightened “normal”.

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Director’s Channel – April 2021

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

It’s been just over a year now since our world went virtual. Zoom meetings, online teaching, COVID-19 testing have all become routine. Now that people are starting to be vaccinated, I’m hopeful that by fall we can resume in-person instruction, that labs can operate at full capacity, and that conferences can be held in person. Although, it’s been great to hear talks from people all around the world, we have missed out on the casual interactions, the serendipitous discussions that lead to different ways of thinking. In fact, all of the major breaks in my career have come from interactions at conferences.

Last year, we canceled the annual UMass Interdisciplinary Neurosciences conference because of the campus shutdown. We decided not to hold a virtual conference this year because personal interactions are the heart of such a local meeting. I’m confident that we will resume the tradition in the spring of 2022 when it is safe to meet in person again.

In the meantime, we continue our great lineup of virtual neuroscience speakers in April including a Distinguished Lecture by Lynn Nadel. His book, co-authored with Nobel laureate John O’Keefe, “The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map” has framed neuroscience research on learning and memory over the last half century. Although, it would have been nice to meet Dr. Nadel in person, I am still excited to hear his perspective on the progress made in this field.

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