The center’s summer programs offer participants a chance to learn about neurotechnology in a hands-on, interactive and immersive way. Read an overview and learn what two students are hoping to get out of their summer program experience this year.
The Center for Neurotechnology (CNT) is dedicated to providing research experiences and hosting outreach events for K-12 students and college students at the University of Washington (UW) and the CNT’s partner institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, San Diego State University (SDSU), Southwestern College, Morehouse College and Spelman College. These outreach efforts include the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which recruits undergraduate students from across the nation and the Research Experience for Veterans (REV) program that serves undergraduates who are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. CNT research labs at the UW also host precollege teachers in the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program and Seattle-area high school students in the Young Scholars Program (YSP). High school students can also participate in the CNT’s YSP-REACH, a one-week program that introduces students to concepts in neural engineering and takes them on tours of CNT-affiliated labs on the UW campus.
We want to see our students get interested in neural engineering, pursue graduate degrees, and become leaders in the field.- CNT Executive and Education Director, Eric Chudler
The REU, REV, RET and YSP all enable participants to work on a research project in a CNT-affiliated lab and learn more about their specific interests in neurotechnology. The REU, REV and YSP specifically aim to support students’ academic interests and inform their future careers in neural engineering, neuroscience, and beyond.
“We want to see our students get interested in neural engineering, pursue graduate degrees, and become leaders in the field,” said Eric Chudler, executive director and education director of the CNT and a research associate professor in the UW Department of Bioengineering.
Chudler said that recruitment for the REU involves a nationwide search, and students participating this summer are coming from all over the country, including Dartmouth College and Johns Hopkins University as well as CNT partner institutions.
Supporting the next generation of researchers in their long-term goals
Tri Nguyen, 2019 REU participant and a rising senior at SDSU, is currently doing research in the SDSU Neurological Micro-electrical Mechanical Systems Lab. There, he designs neural probes that can be used to detect neurotransmitters like dopamine, and he is excited to continue building his neural engineering skills through the REU by conducting research in the CNT-affiliated Sensor Systems Lab at the UW. He sees himself contributing to the lab’s work developing new sensor systems that can be used in bioelectronics, robotics, and pervasive computing, a concept where information is connected wirelessly across multiple devices.
I wanted to learn more about the connections between the brain and computers so I can make my software more in tune to what people need.- 2019 YSP participant, Anna Ohrt
“We already know about [basic limb structure, function, and recovery after injury], so [this is] something researchers continue to improve. However, brain function is very tricky, and how it connects to the human central nervous system is not fully explored yet,” Nguyen said. “I’m excited to work in Josh Smith’s lab because there’s more to learn about beyond basic movement.”
In the same way that Nguyen is drawn to the opportunity to answer new research questions in neural engineering, Anna Ohrt, an incoming YSP participant who will be a freshman at Brown University in the fall, is drawn to the way that computer science can create anything from an app to learning software. Through the YSP, Ohrt hopes to learn more about how to work at the intersection of computer science and neuroscience.
“I wanted to learn more about the connections between the brain and computers so I can make my software more in tune to what people need,” Ohrt said. “It will [also] help me figure out what classes I want to take in college.”
Ohrt also hopes to find ways to empower people with technology, especially assistive technology that supports people with disabilities. She hopes that the YSP enables her to learn more about neural engineering and inform her long-term goals.
“I’m very invested in assistive tech,” Ohrt said. “What’s important to me may change, but I hope to find a job where I’m making a difference, helping other people, and have a personal connection.”
This summer, Ohrt will work in the CNT-affiliated GRID Lab, and she sees the YSP as an opportunity to learn more about how researchers create products for the real world. This is especially important to Ohrt’s personal project that she developed in high school, “Chemistry Labs,” where she used an assistive technology for students that relies on open-source voice recognition software.
“I’m hoping to learn more about assistive technology and development in hardware form, and how to take an idea [like mine] and make it real,” Ohrt said.
Neuroethics, mentorship, and scientific communication as cornerstones of the research process
In addition to having a laboratory research experience, REU, REV, RET and YSP students also have other educational and professional development opportunities. For example, they can learn from neurotechnology end users through the CNT’s End-User Roundtable and ask questions that pertain to their research project. Female REU, REV and YSP students also have the chance to chat with female leaders in neural engineering through the CNT’s Women’s Career-Mentoring Lunch. Chudler said that REU participants have also expressed interest in supporting outreach events for K-12 students.
Sharing information across scientific communities is important because this expands on the knowledge of our society,” Nguyen said. “That’s how we keep making innovations and making lives better.- 2019 REU participant, Tri Nguyen
“That’s another opportunity for REU students to gain some leadership skills and talk to other people about what they’re doing,” Chudler said. “The students’ primary responsibility is research, but there are opportunities to maximize what the center has to offer.”
In addition to conducting research, REU, REV, RET and YSP participants also learn scientific communication skills, presentation skills, and foundational concepts in neuroethics. Nguyen is particularly excited to learn more about neuroethics because he recently took a class on this topic.
“Ethics regarding brain-computer interfaces are very relevant, and it’s an important part of [what I will do as a researcher],” Nguyen said. “The more I learn about it, the better it informs my research.”
All REU, REV, RET and YSP students present their research projects during an end-of-summer research symposium at the CNT, which is an opportunity for students to practice scientific communication skills with their peers and other researchers. Nguyen said he recognizes the importance of effective scientific communication because he draws on knowledge, insights, and research methods when working in his lab.
“We give students the opportunity to learn best practices that will prepare them to give talks and poster presentations at scientific meetings or at other research programs at their home institutions” Chudler said. “We hope they’ll be able to showcase the work they do in a good light.”
Beyond the REU program, Nguyen hopes to apply insights from his research experience, conversations with other researchers, and seminars on scientific communication when he returns to college in the fall. This way, he can continue the conversation around neurotechnology research and innovations that are still being developed.
“Sharing information across scientific communities is important because this expands on the knowledge of our society,” Nguyen said. “That’s how we keep making innovations and making lives better.”
For more information about CNT summer programs, contact Eric Chudler.