ECE Seminar Thursday, Dec. 7 @ 1:00 p.m.

Reading and Writing the Neural Code: Initial Steps towards Enhancing Perception and Cognition Using Neural Interfaces
Thursday, December 7 @ 1:00 p.m., Larsen 310

Qi Wang is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University


The transformation of sensory signals into spatiotemporal patterns of neural activity in the brain is critical in forming our perception of the external world. Physical signals, such as light, sound, and force, are transduced to neural electrical impulses, or spikes, at the periphery, and these spikes are subsequently transmitted to the neocortex through the thalamic stage of the sensory pathways, ultimately forming the cortical representation of the sensory world. The sensory processing and perception are modulated through bottom-up (by external stimulus properties) and top-down (by internal brain state) mechanisms. To enhance perception and cognition, we will need not only to understand how the information is processed in the brain, but also to device optimal strategies to control activity in the nervous system. My talk will first use sensory adaptation as an example to demonstrate that the sensory pathway adaptively changes the neural code based on the properties of sensory stimulus. Sensory adaptation strongly shaped thalamic synchrony and dictated the window of integration of the recipient cortical targets, and therefore switched the nature of what information about the outside world is being conveyed to cortex. Second, I will discuss how to control the activity of the locus coeruleus – norepinephrine (LC-NE) system, a major neuromodulatory system, to enhance sensory processing. Our data demonstrated that LC activation increased the feature sensitivity, and thus information transmission while decreasing their firing rate for thalamic relay neurons. Moreover, control of LC activity improved animals’ behavioral performance in perceptual tasks. Taken together, an understanding of how to read and write the neural code is essential not only to providing insight about neurological disorders involving aberrant information processing, but also to enabling the development of neural interface technologies for enhancing sensory perception and learning.


Qi Wang received his first Ph.D. in Robotics from Harbin Institute of Technology, China, and the second Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from McGill University, Canada, in 1998 and 2007, respectively. He received postdoctoral training in Neuroscience at Harvard University from 2006 to 2008. Prior to joining the faculty at Columbia University in January 2013, he held a research faculty position in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. His research interests include neural coding, sensory processing in the brain, brain-machine interfaces, and biomedical instrumentation. He has received numerous awards including IEEE EMBS Early Career Achievement Award, Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Foundation, and the Best Paper Awards at the 14th IEEE Haptics Symposium.