Calhoun Chosen for SIRS Honorific Award

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Vince Calhoun

Vince Calhoun has been named as the recipient of the 2021 Honorific Award for Outstanding Translational Research from the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS). Calhoun will receive this award on April 17 during the SIRS annual meeting, which will be held virtually this year.

Calhoun is being recognized as an internationally renowned research scholar in the development and use of advanced neuroimaging approaches to study the biological underpinnings of schizophrenia. According to his nomination, Calhoun is a pioneer in the fields of data-driven brain connectivity, dynamic connectivity, and multimodal data fusion, and he has been a key visionary in the development of neuroimage-based markers of brain health and disorder. 

Then nomination goes on to say that Calhoun has shown an impressive ability to build a bridge between the development of advanced algorithms and their extensive application. He has been a leader in open science, making these technologies available to all in the field through multiple software tools, tutorials, and training workshops. 

Calhoun is a Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Eminent Scholar in Neuroscience and Neuroinformatics, and he also holds appointments in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech and in neurology and psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine. He is the founding director of the Center for Translational Research in Neuroimaging and Data Science (TReNDS), a tri-institutional effort supported by Georgia State University, Georgia Tech and Emory to increase cooperation among Atlanta brain imaging researchers. He is also the founder of the Center for Advanced Brain Imaging, a joint venture between Georgia State and Georgia Tech. 

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Four Georgia Tech Faculty Named IEEE Fellows

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Jaydev Desai
Four Georgia Tech faculty members were named IEEE Fellows, effective January 1, 2018. They are Jaydev Desai, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME); Saibal Mukhopadhyay and Justin Romberg, both professors in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); and Kevin James “Jim” Sangston, a senior research engineer in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).
Saibal Mukhopadhyay has been an assistant professor in ECE since 2007.
Kevin James "Jim" Sangston

Four Georgia Tech faculty members were named IEEE Fellows, effective January 1, 2018. They are Jaydev Desai, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME); Saibal Mukhopadhyay and Justin Romberg, both professors in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); and Kevin James “Jim” Sangston, a senior research engineer in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

The IEEE Grade of Fellow is conferred by the IEEE Board of Directors upon a person with an outstanding record of accomplishments in any of the IEEE fields of interest. IEEE Fellow is the highest grade of membership and is recognized by the technical community as a prestigious honor and an important career achievement.

Desai is being recognized “for contributions to medical and swarm robotics.” A BME faculty member since 2016, he also serves as associate director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines and as director of the newly launched Georgia Center for Medical Robotics. Desai’s research interests are primarily in image-guided surgical robotics, cancer diagnosis at the micro-scale, and rehabilitation robotics. Before joining Georgia Tech, Desai was a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mukhopadhyay is being recognized “for contributions to energy-efficient and robust computing systems design.” An ECE faculty member since 2007, he leads the Gigascale Reliable Energy Efficient Nanosystem (GREEN) Lab, where he and his current team of 12 Ph.D. students develop smart machines that are able to generate usable information from real-time data for diverse applications - from self-powered sensors to mobile phones to high-performance servers. Mukhopadhyay’s team explores algorithmic principles to make these systems energy-efficient, robust, and secure, and pursue their experimental demonstration in silicon. 

Romberg is being recognized “for contributions to compressive sensing.” An ECE faculty member since 2006, he is the School’s associate chair for Research and holds the Schlumberger Professorship. In addition, Romberg serves as associate director for the Center for Machine Learning. He conducts research that is on the interface between signal processing, applied harmonic analysis, and optimization. Romberg and his current team of six Ph.D. students are interested in both the mathematical theory and real-world implementation of algorithms to make difficult processing tasks much easier.

Sangston is being recognized “for contributions to coherent detection of radar signals in clutter.” He initially came to GTRI from the U.S Naval Research Laboratory in 1996. His research in target detection in difficult clutter environments from the mid-1990s up till the present time has been a fruitful source of ideas and motivation for many investigators pursuing advanced research on radar target detection problems throughout the world. He currently works in the Sensors and Electromagnetic Applications Laboratory (SEAL), where he conducts research that seeks to combine advanced geometric and algebraic ideas to solve challenging radar signal processing problems. 

The IEEE is the world’s leading professional association for advancing technology for humanity. Through its 400,000-plus members in 160 countries, the association is a leading authority on a wide variety of areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power, and consumer electronics.

Dedicated to the advancement of technology, the IEEE publishes 30 percent of the world’s literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields, and has developed more than 1,300 active industry standards.  The association also sponsors or co-sponsors nearly 1,700 international technical conferences each year.  To learn more about IEEE or the IEEE Fellow Program, please visit www.ieee.org.

Inan Wins ONR Young Investigator Award

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Omer Inan

Omer T. Inan has received an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award for his research project entitled “Wearable Assessment of Warfighter Blood Volume Status using Graph Mining Algorithms.” 

In this project, Inan will investigate wearable sensing systems and modern data analytics tools for estimating blood volume status for the Warfighter in austere environments. Reduced blood volume is experienced by the modern Warfighter in a variety of circumstances ranging from exsanguination to exertional heat stress, and can ultimately lead to shock or collapse. This project can benefit the health and performance of the Warfighter by enabling proactive measures to be taken in the field to reduce preventable deaths and improve performance. The technologies developed in this work can ultimately have broad use in civilian applications as well, ranging from trauma care to predicting cardiovascular collapse in persons working in warm environments with protective clothing.

Inan has been an assistant professor at the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 2013, where he also holds an adjunct faculty appointment in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. Inan and his research team design clinically relevant medical devices and systems, and then translate them from the lab to patient care applications. They also develop new technologies for monitoring chronic diseases at home, such as heart failure.

Inan is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience and a program faculty member for the Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program. His most recent honors include the Georgia Tech Sigma Xi Young Faculty Award (2017) and the Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award in (2016); he is also a senior member of IEEE.

Sarioglu Wins NSF CAREER Award

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Fatih Sarioglu

Fatih Sarioglu has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research project entitled “Feedback-Controlled Microfluidic Chips with Integrated Sensor Networks for Blood Analysis.”

Technologies that can rapidly characterize blood samples and extract reliable information are in ever-increasing demand for both clinical and basic research applications. In this project, Sarioglu aims to develop smart and adaptive microfluidic chips that can reliably analyze small blood samples with minimal sample preparation. 

The proposed microfluidic chips will be low-cost and disposable, and they will include built-in electronics that can convert the chemical information from blood cells into electrical signals to be interpreted by a smartphone and transmitted to the healthcare provider. If successful, the research has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by enabling complex blood tests to be performed outside of clinical laboratories.

Sarioglu has been an assistant professor at the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) since 2014. He and his research team develop technologies to investigate and manipulate biological systems on the micro and nanoscale primarily for biomedical applications. Using advanced fabrication techniques, they build devices that utilize microfluidics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), optics, electronics, and data analytics. Through clinical collaborations, they use these technologies as medical devices for disease detection and monitoring and as bioanalytical instruments for high-throughput molecular and cellular analysis.

Sarioglu is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience and the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, and he is a program faculty member in the Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program. In 2017, Sarioglu received the Beckman Young Investigator Award for his outstanding work in the chemical and life sciences.

Neuroscientists Team with Engineers to Explore How the Brain Controls Movement

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Muhannad Bakir (far left) and Emory's Samuel Sober (far right) combined forces for the project. The work will be led by post-doctoral fellows in their labs, Georgia Tech's Muneeb Zia (center left) and Emory's Bryce Chung (center right).
Recording device for muscles

This article was written by Carol Clark, senior science communicator at Emory University and editor of eScience Commons

Scientists have made remarkable advances into recording the electrical activity that the nervous system uses to control complex skills, leading to insights into how the nervous system directs an animal’s behavior. 

“We can record the electrical activity of a single neuron, and large groups of neurons, as animals learn and perform skilled behaviors,” says Sam Sober, an associate professor of biology at Emory University who studies the brain and nervous system. “What’s missing,” he adds, “is the technology to precisely record the electrical signals of the muscles that ultimately control that movement.”

The Sober lab is now developing that technology through a collaboration with the lab of Muhannad Bakir, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The researchers recently received a $200,000 Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Award from the McKnight Foundation to create a device that can record electrical action potentials, or “spikes” within muscles of songbirds and rodents. The technology will be used to help understand the neural control of many different skilled behaviors to potentially gain insights into neurological disorders that affect motor control.

“Our device will be the first that lets you record populations of spikes from all of the muscles involved in controlling a complex behavior,” Sober says. “This technique will offer unprecedented access to the neural signals that control muscles, allowing previously impossible investigations into how the brain controls the body.”

“By combining expertise in the life sciences at Emory with the engineering expertise of Georgia Tech, we are able to enter new scientific territory,” Bakir says. “The ultimate goal is to make discoveries that improve the quality of life of people.” 

The Sober lab previously developed a prototype device — electrodes attached to flexible wires — to measure electrical activity in a breathing muscle used by Bengalese finches to sing. The way birds control their song has a lot in common with human speech, both in how it is learned early in life and how it is produced in adulthood. The neural pathways for birdsong are also well known, and restricted to that one activity, making birds a good model system for studying nervous system function.

“In experiments using our prototype, we discovered that, just like in brain cells, precise spike timing patterns in muscle cells are critical for controlling behavior — in this case breathing,” Sober says.

The prototype device, however, is basic. Its 16 electrodes can only record activity from a single muscle — not the entire ensemble of muscles involved in birdsong. In order to gain a fuller picture of how neural signals control movement, neuroscientists need a much more sophisticated device.

The McKnight funding allowed Sober to team up with Bakir. Their goal is to create a micro-scale electromyography (EMG) sensor array, containing more than 1,000 electrodes, to record single-cellular data across many muscles. 

The engineering challenges are formidable. The arrays need to be flexible enough to fit the shape of small muscles used in fine motor skills, and to change shape as the muscles contract. The entire device must also be tiny enough not to impede the movement of a small animal.

“Our first step is to build a flexible substrate on the micro-scale that can support high-density electrodes,” Bakir says. “And we will need to use microchips that work in parallel with 1,000 electrodes, and then attach them to that substrate.”

To meet that challenge, the Bakir lab will create a 3D integrated circuit. “Essentially, it’s building a miniature skyscraper of electrical circuits stacked vertically atop one another,” Bakir says. This vertical design will allow the researchers to minimize the size of the flexible substrate.

“To our knowledge, no one has done what we are trying to do in this project,” Bakir says. “That makes it more difficult, but also exciting because we are entering new space.”  

The Sober lab will use the new device to expand its songbird vocalization studies. And it will explore how the nervous system controls the muscles involved when a mouse performs skilled movements with its forelimbs. 

An early version of the technology will also be shared with collaborators of the Sober lab at three different universities. These collaborators will further test the arrays, while also gathering data across more species.

“We know so little about how the brain organizes skilled behaviors,” Sober says. “Once we perfect this technology, we will make it available to researchers in this field around the world, to advance knowledge as rapidly as possible.”

The mission of the McKnight Foundation’s Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Award, as described on its website, is “to bring science closer to the day when diseases of the brain and behavior can be accurately diagnosed, prevented and treated.”

Full cutline information for photos

Top photo: The labs of Georgia Tech's Muhannad Bakir (far left) and Emory's Samuel Sober (far right) combined forces for the project. The work will be led by post-doctoral fellows in their labs, Georgia Tech's Muneeb Zia (center left) and Emory's Bryce Chung (center right). Photos by Ann Watson, Emory Photo/Video.

Second photo: A prototype of the proposed device has 16 electrodes that can record data from a single muscle. The McKnight Award will allow the researchers to scale up to a device with more than 1,000 electrodes that can record from 10 or more muscles.

Popular Science Puts Georgia Tech’s Will Ratcliff on ‘Brilliant 10’ List

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Biologist honored for illuminating evolutionary mystery

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Magazine Popular Science has heaved Georgia Tech researcher William Ratcliff into its annual list "The Brilliant 10." Ratcliff has impressively addressed the question of how single cell organisms evolved into multicellular life.Credit: Rob Felt
Will Ratcliff, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Biology, has been named to Popular Science's annual list of up-and-coming scientists, "The Brilliant 10."Credit: Rob Felt
Will Ratcliff got his inspiration to become a biologist in childhood after his parents took him and his brother Felix to spend their summers at family cabins in woodlands on the rocky Pacific coastline near Mendocino, California. The two boys spent their time in nature exploring living things.Credit: Will Ratcliff
William Ratcliff is enjoying a moment in the spotlight, after the magazine Popular Science put him on its 2016 roster of up-and-coming researchers, "The Brilliant 10," for his work illuminating a mystery of evolution.Credit: Rob Felt

Will Ratcliff is having a moment in the spotlight for getting yeast and algae to jump through hoops to new evolutionary heights.

The magazine Popular Science has heaved the researcher from the Georgia Institute of Technology into its annual list “The Brilliant 10,” a select roster of “the 10 most innovative young minds in science and technology.”  Ratcliff was praised for advancing the study of cellular evolution.

PopSci cited his work demonstrating how single-cell organisms may have transitioned into simple multicellular organisms ages ago.  It’s widely seen as an arduous evolutionary leap, since single cells had to forfeit a lot of their own fitness for the greater good of creating viable cell groups.

“William Ratcliff revealed surprising insights into what might have been necessary for this transition to occur,” Popular Science wrote in its September/October edition. He has illuminated “one of the greatest mysteries of life.”

The needs of the many

Ratcliff, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Biological Sciences, has put thousands of generations of yeast and many generations of algae cells through stresses in the lab devised to get them to evolve better survival strategies around forming cohesive groups.

“We’re figuring out kind of clever ways to get them to form groups and then for those groups to become more complex,” he said.

The idea is to end up with a rudimentary multicellular being with cells taking on specialized roles, a very early step on the pathway to organ development.  But the first advantage to group formation is simple -- size. Bigger is often better.

“A lot of small predators have small mouths that are great at eating single-cells,” Ratcliff said.  But big multicellular cell clusters are too big for these predators to get their mouths around. Clustered cells survive to pass on their genes.

Race to the bottom

To accelerate the evolution of yeast from individuals cells into cell groups called “snowflakes,” one of his signature achievements, Ratcliff has selected for yeast cells that sink more quickly.  There, again, big clusters sink better than single cells.

Once clusters are done outcompeting the unicells, they compete against each other. “It’s remarkable how quickly snowflake yeast clusters evolve new traits that let them win this race,” he said.

While the group gains various strengths, it sacrifices the viability of individual cells.  “They evolve a division of labor in the group, in which some of them commit suicide,” Ratcliff said.  That changes reproductive patterns, which makes the clusters’ progeny more competitive.

The loss of individual cell fitness is extensive.

The more robust a cluster gets, the less likely its individuals are to survive if they are caused to revert back to individual cells.  It’s like an odd twist on the traditional marriage vows: Part, and you will die.

Much of Ratcliff’s research is funded by NASA’s Exobiology program and the National Science Foundation.

Felt it coming

Before Popular Science called for an interview for its four-paragraph nod, Ratcliff had sensed something was coming.  For a few months, while the magazine cemented its list, it asked around at scientific societies about noteworthy up-and-coming researchers.

As a result, Ratcliff received some veiled tips.

“A couple of colleagues of mine said, ‘Hey man, I got a call from a reporter. I can’t tell you anything about it, but you may be hearing something soon,’” he said.

When PopSci called, a reporter told Ratcliff that many scientists had mentioned him, strongly influencing the decision to name him one of "The Brilliant 10."  “That was very touching that people within the research community said to them they should look at my lab,” Ratcliff said.

Hail Mary pass

Life’s small coincidences have helped guide Ratcliff’s academic strivings down the path of evolutionary research.

His career in biology spawned from childhood, when his parents carted him and his brother Felix off in their summers to woodland family cabins next to craggy Pacific Coast cliffs near Mendocino, California.  “There was really nothing to do except to run around the forest and the ocean checking out the lives of plants and animals,” Ratcliff said.

They got hooked; both brothers became biologists.

Plants became Ratcliff’s passion at an early age, which led to a bachelor of science in plant biology from the University of California, Davis, but that threw his career a serendipitous curve. “I thought it would have a lot to do with ecology, but it turned out to be mostly cellular biology.”

The decision to see if yeast cells could be coaxed into making the leap to multicellularity was also slightly capricious.  “There was a lot of doubt surrounding it, but I thought, ‘Why not just give it a try and see,’" said Ratcliff, whose Ph.D. is in ecology.

He was astonished when that longshot worked.  “It was a kind of Hail Mary pass,” he said. It led to a dedicated research specialization and a notable body of continuing work.

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Read about a tiny mutation triggering massive evolutionary change

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