(Nov. 4, 2014) -- Fidel Santamaria, associate professor of biology in the UTSA College of Sciences, is one of 36 researchers in the nation selected to receive a two-year $300,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER). The funding supports President Obama's BRAIN Initiative, a federal effort to support researchers to create new technology that will demystify complex brain processes.
According to Santamaria, complex behaviors in neuroscience are broken into the interactions of multiple components, each working in its own characteristic temporal framework. However, in many cases an in-depth look at the data reveals that mechanisms at one scale are strongly influenced by the activity of the system at all scales of analysis. As a result, the system cannot be separated into independent components and traditional analysis techniques cannot provide an appropriate description of how the system works. In such cases, the activity of a system follows a mathematical formula known as a power-law.
The team lead by Santamaria is hypothesizing that the same power-law framework that he has used to study biophysical processes at the cellular and sub-cellular level in neurons can be applied to study complex animal and human activity. This framework has the potential to transform traditional approaches to understanding brain networks, and to impact experimental design, data analysis and the mechanistic interpretation of experimental results.
Santamaria and his colleagues will use the grant to build computational tools to analyze and model power-law dynamics at multiple scales of interest in neuroscience from molecules to behavior. The team will build a computational toolbox using state-of-the-art algorithms and computational resources at UTSA and at the Texas Advanced Computer Center in Austin.
The toolbox will be able to process Big Data streams generated by different types of neuroscience experiments, from those that record the electrical activity of single neurons, to the production of complex motor activity in animals. Santamaria also will use a little used branch of mathematics known as fractional differential equations. Together, the computational and theoretical infrastructure will be made available to all neuroscientists to analyze and model their results.
To conduct the research, Santamaria will collaborate with Todd Troyer and Nicole Wicha, both associate professors in the UTSA Department of Biology.
Troyer, an expert in songbird research, will monitor songbirds from birth to maturity to discover how the birds learn to construct their songs from scales ranging from individual sounds to long sequences of songbird "syllables."
"Birds learn their song by imitating adults, similar to how humans learn to speak," said Troyer.
Wicha's expertise is in the brain basis of language comprehension. She will record electroencephalograms (EEGs), which measure changes in brain activity on the order of milliseconds, while volunteers perform a language comprehension task. She will then repeat the test multiple times over a one-month period, allowing the team to study changes in brain activity at multiple time scales.
The two laboratories will generate Big Data streams in which temporal correlations can be measured on a wide range of timescales. Data from these labs will serve as test beds and incubators for applying power-law dynamic analysis and modeling concepts at multiple levels of biological organization in the brain.
"This research is a combination of theoretical and experimental work," said Santamaria. "We will watch a bird sing, analyze the data and put it into a theoretical context. We will look at how humans process language. We have tools that work from the statistical point of view all the way to the theoretical differential equations. This research is an example of how biology is changing into a field in which theory and experiments can be done in the same place."
To learn more about UTSA neuroscience research, visit the UTSA Neurosciences Institute website.
The Leadership Storytelling Homecoming Brunch brings together UTSA alumni and students to share a delicious meal as well as a roundtable conversation about how experiences in college carry us forward on unique leadership journeys.
University Center, Denman Room (UC 2.01.28), Main Campus
The conference is dedicated to sharing recent knowledge and experiences gained in the area of Big Data by researchers in academia, industry and the government sectors within the areas of business, national security, infrastructure, healthcare and visualization.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom (HUC 1.104), Main Campus
Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, via webcast, will examine America’s economic, political and security relations with China during CHINA Town Hall, an 80-city live discussion and Q&A on China and Sino-American relations.
Building Building, Richard Liu Auditorium (BB 2.01.02), Main Campus
The African American Studies program proudly presents William "Cruz" Shaw, San Antonio City Councilman and UTSA Alumnus. Event is free and open to the public.
University Center, Retama Auditorium (UC 2.02.02), Main Campus
The graduate fair is an opportunity for the UTSA student body and local San Antonio community to learn about graduate education opportunities. The event is free and open to the public.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom (1.104), Main Campus
President Taylor Eighmy is inviting all UTSA students to "Pizza With The Prez." Come grab a slice of pizza and take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the President. Pizza while supplies last.
Frio Street Building, Food Court Commons Area, Downtown Campus
President Taylor Eighmy is inviting all UTSA faculty and staff to "Tacos With Taylor." Take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the President at any one of these casual meet and greets.
Biotechnology, Science and Engineering Building atrium, Main Campus
The College of Engineering Student Council and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce host this fun and education event. Erika Camacho is the keynote speaker. Children and families are welcome.
East Campus Parking Lot, Valero Way, Main Campus
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