Leading brain researchers convene at WashU

Some of the nation's leading researchers in brain dynamics and neural engineering came together at WashU to share their research and determine the next steps in the growing field.

L to R: J. Nathan Kutz, University of Washington; Garrett Stanley, Georgia Tech; Larry Snyder, Washington University in St. Louis; Erik Herzog, Washington University in St. Louis

The Workshop on Brain Dynamics and Neurocontrol Engineering, headed by ShiNung Ching, assistant professor, and Jr-Shin Li, associate professor, both in the Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, brought about 90 neuroscientists, engineers and graduate students to the Danforth Campus June 25-27. Themes of the sessions included controlling neural circuits, inferring neural dynamics, and network dynamics and control in neuroscience. It is the first workshop to bring together researchers from systems science and control engineering and the basic sciences of neuroscience, biology and biomedical sciences, Li said.

The workshop was designed to provide a focused forum to discuss research synergy between experts from the dynamics, control and neuroscience communities.

"Building on the school's unique systems science & mathematics program, as well as the collaborative culture and institutional strengths, we have continued to push the envelope of systems science and engineering in diverse application domains, including medicine, biology, and biomedical sciences and engineering," Li said. "This workshop embodied our forward-looking approach to systems science, as a discipline not limited to the modeling, construction and design of engineered systems, but a framework upon which to understand the engineering within nature and human society."

Among the influential speakers were Roger Brockett, a pioneer in the field of systems science and control theory, the An Wang Research Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at Harvard University, founder of the Harvard Robotics Lab and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. More than 100 people attended Brockett's presentation at the Cox Distinguished Lecture.

Martin Arthur, Jerry Cox, Roger Brockett, ShiNung Ching, Jr-Shin Li

In addition, influential neuroscientists Steven Schiff, director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering at the Huck Institute of the Life Sciences at Penn State University, and John Baillieul, Distinguished Professor of engineering and director of the Boston University Laboratory for Intelligent Mechatronic Systems, were speakers at plenary sessions.

Barani Raman, associate professor of biomedical engineering, also presented to the group on neural dynamics.

"We hope that the workshop can promote greater awareness of the potential impact of systems engineering as a valuable component within the broader effort to study the brain, and that the presentations and discussions during the workshop may lead to new collaborations," Ching said.

The workshop also included a poster session featuring the research of 19 graduate students from all over the country who received travel grants to attend the workshop.

The event was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation, Cox Distinguished Lecture Series, McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience, Oak Ridge Association of Universities, Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 96.5 tenured/tenure-track and 28 additional full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.