As we move through the world around us our senses collect huge amounts of information about the state of our environment. It is the brain's job to process this information quickly and accurately in order to make decisions, implement coordinated motor responses, and predict future events. How does the brain do this? I am interested in studying sensory processing systems in order to better understand the fundamental computations that neurons perform during the processing of external stimuli. I am also interested in how internal states such as motivation and attention influence these computations.
More broadly, I am interested in how the fundamental principles underlying these computational strategies employed by the brain can be translated into artificial information processing systems. Over the last decade it has become clear that powerful new machine learning approaches like deep neural networks have a superficial but strong connection to biological information processing systems, like the visual system. Further developing these parallels will inevitably result in significant scientific and technological advances in the years to come.
Image of neurons in mouse auditory cortex using 2-photon calcium imaging. Courtesy of Krystyna Solarana of the Kanold Lab.
The study of sensory cortical neurons has traditionally been carried out by recording from one or a few neurons. Recent advances in 2-photon microscopy now allow us to simultaneously record hundreds or even thousands of neurons in superficial layers of cortex. Since stimulus representation and processing is manifested in spatiotemporal patterns of activity in-vivo, these new experimental approaches have the power to revolutionize our understanding of cortical function.
Currently, however, there are no standard techniques for analyzing the vast amounts of data these experiments generate. The aim of this project is to develop a unified statistical framework that combines stimulus processing models and latent variable models of neural activity. I am interested in using this model to address questions about the nature of the interactions between stimulus processing and ongoing cortical network dynamics in large populations of sensory neurons.paper | poster | code