UW News

March 13, 2015

Public symposium features UW experts on ‘Reverse-engineering the brain’

One of modern science’s grand challenges is understanding how the human brain actually works — from cataloging millions of individual cells to figuring out how the circuitry that underlies our thoughts and actions decodes information.

artists concept of brain cell-to-cell signaling

An artists concept of brain cell-to-cell signaling.

By deconstructing these intricate processes, engineers can use the human brain to build everything from smarter computers to better speech recognition programs to artificial limbs that can “recognize” thoughts.

Some of the University of Washington’s leading experts on this process — called “Reverse- Engineering the Brain” — will participate in a free symposium and panel discussion on Thursday March 19 in the HUB Lyceum. The 2 p.m. symposium, 3:45 p.m. panel discussion and 4:30 p.m. reception are open to the public but require advance registration.

The event is part of the National Academy of Engineering‘s (NAE’s) 2015 Regional Meeting

“We are honored to host the NAE Regional Meeting at the UW,” said Michael B. Bragg, Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering. “Reverse engineering the brain is one of the NAE’s 14 ‘Grand Challenges for Engineering‘ where the college and university is strategically focused. This symposium will highlight the UW’s extraordinary research and partnerships in this area as we strive to fully realize the brain’s potential.”

The symposium speakers include Joshua Smith, a sensor systems expert and UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and electrical engineering who is working on brain implants; Elizabeth Buffalo, associate professor of physiology and biophysics who focuses on memory-impairing diseases, and Nuno Maçarico da Costa, an assistant investigator in the neural coding department of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

Da Costa, who leads efforts there to map the wiring of the mouse brain neocortex, will be joined by panelists Rajesh P.N. Rao, director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering who has demonstrated direct brain-to-brain communication, and Adrienne Fairhall, an associate professor in physiology and biophysics who works to better understand nervous system and information processing.

Reverse-engineering the brain is one of the NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering — along with making solar energy economical, restoring urban infrastructure, and providing access to clean drinking water — that aim to solve the most pressing problems of our time. They were selected by a panel of nationally recognized experts in engineering, national defense, international development, remote sensing, aeronautics and astronautics, and other disciplines.