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.


UMass IONs announces 2022 Inspiration Award winners

The Initiative on Neurosciences is pleased to announce the winners of the Inspiration Awards for Neuroscience and Technology. These awards were made directly to graduate students and postdoctoral research associates for research projects that intersect neuroscience with either computer science or engineering technology.

Twenty proposals were submitted from applicants in ten departments across four colleges. The three main criteria used in judging were creativity, feasibility, and integration of neuroscience with either computer science or engineering. We are hopeful that the winning proposals will lead to larger projects and continued collaboration in the future of merging neuroscience and technology. We are thrilled to announce the winners below, along with the abstracts accompanying their proposals. All awardees were recognized at the 3rd annual IONs Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference on May 26.

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UMass Neurosciences Publications – April 2022

This month’s featured researcher is Gottfried Schlaug, who wears many hats. He is an adjunct Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, the Scientific Director of the Human Magnetic Resonance Imaging (hMRI) Center in the Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS), and a physician at Baystate Health. He is also a featured speaker at the UMass Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference on May 26th. His lab is investigating new ways to use hMRI not only as a diagnostic tool, but for therapy too. This month he has two papers that appeared in PubMed. One is a consensus statement in Nature Protocols: “A checklist for assessing the methodological quality of concurrent tES-fMRI studies“. the other is a collaboration with Finnish and Danish researchers, “Neuroanatomical correlates of speech and singing production in chronic post-stroke aphasia” that was published in Brain Communications.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared online in April. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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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.


UMass Neurosciences Publications – March 2022

Youngbin Kwak

This month’s Featured Researcher, Youngbin Kwak, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Youngbin is interested in the brain mechanisms that can bias decision-making in humans. Her lab has an upcoming paper in the journal Cortex that appeared PubMed recently showing changes in brain waves that corresponded to when subjects expected a larger reward when executing a movement.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared online in March. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Brennan Falcy awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Brennan Falcy, an NSB graduate student in Ilia Karatsoreos’s lab, was awarded a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF). The award aims to fund research that demonstrates rigorous intellectual merit as well as the potential for broader impacts for our society.

Brennan graduated with a B.S. in Neuroscience from UCLA in 2018. He came to UMass to work with Ilia Karatsoreos, where he could apply his neuroscience background to ask questions related to circadian biology and cellular metabolism. Brennan’s proposed research aims to study the dynamic interactions of astrocytes and neurons over the circadian period. Neurons exhibit 24-hour rhythmic fluctuations in excitability. Brennan will test the hypothesis that this phenomenon originates from rhythmic astrocytic input of redox-buffering metabolites. He will perform electrophysiology on cultured neurons and record the response of neurons to oxidative challenges in the presence and absence of astrocytes at different times of day. Brain activity – from the cellular level to the network level – is rhythmic across the 24-hour period. Uncovering how neuronal function is influenced, for example by astrocytes, is critical to understanding emergent functions such as cognition. Further, discovering how brain cell function changes over the circadian period has implications for time-of-day phenomena, such as sleep or susceptibility to injury. 

As a former undergraduate transfer student himself, he works to help demystify grad school to undergraduate transfer students. In his free time he enjoys running and exploring the outdoors of New England. On behalf of IONs and NSB, congratulations, Brennan!


Consciousness revealed

04/01/2022. UMass neuroscientists announced today that they had discovered the source of human consciousness. Lead researcher, Arby Jenkins said, “It’s really surprising because it has been staring us in the face all these years and somehow nobody every noticed.”

Looking for the seat of consciousness.

It turned out people were looking in all the wrong places. “Years ago, Crick had proposed that the habenula was the seat of consciousness, but he was basically too deep.”, said Jenkins, who is known for superficiality.

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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.


Student Spotlight – Parag Juvale

This month’s student spotlight is on Parag Juvale, an MCB student in Dr. Sarah Pallas’s lab. Parag recently received 2 awards to support his research: The Sigma Xi Grants in Aid of Research (GIAR) and The UMass Amherst Graduate School’s Pre-Dissertation Research Grant. His research interests broadly include using biochemistry and molecular biology techniques to investigate the cellular signaling pathways underlying activity-dependent brain plasticity, and in his current work, these grants will help him investigate the synaptic factors that lead to visual plasticity during adulthood.

After completing his B.Sc. in Microbiology in Pune, India, Parag earned a M.Sc. in Cancer Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Leicester, where he completed his M.Sc. thesis at the Medical Research Council (MRC)’s Toxicology Unit, Leicester, U.K. Parag worked for a few years in India before moving to Georgia State University for his Ph.D. and later transferring to UMass Amherst in 2019 with Dr. Pallas. In the coming year, he looks forward to completing his dissertation research and preparing for what is next. Parag aims to work in academia long-term where he will continue researching the cellular mechanisms underlying activity-dependent plasticity.

On behalf of the IONs community, congratulation to Parag!


Dr. Agnes Lacreuse named 2022 Public Engagement Faculty Fellow

Dr. Lacreuse is a professor in the Psychological and Brain Sciences graduate program and head of the Hormones and Cognition Lab. She studies age-related cognitive decline in nonhuman primates to improve understanding of human aging and Alzheimer’s disease. As a Public Engagement Project (PEP) Fellow, she plans to develop strategies to inform the public and policymakers about the critical importance of animal research for medical advances. Dr. Lacreuse also plans to advocate for more research transparency to help the public understand the facts about humane and ethical animal research.

The UMass Amherst Public Engagement Project is a collaboration between the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) and the Center for Research on Families (CRF). The PEP Faculty Fellowship has been made possible by funding from the UMass College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, College of Natural Sciences, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Office of the Provost, University Relations, as well as the collaborating centers and institutes. There were eight faculty members named as Fellows in the 8th cohort this year. Fellows will receive a stipend and training in communicating about research outside of an academic setting. This project encourages communication and collaboration between researchers, journalists, lawmakers in Congress and the State House and practitioners not involved in academia.