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How to Get Reeled in By Neuroscience – a Mathematician’s Guide (Part I)

how to get reeled in by neuroscience

What lies at the intersection of math and medicine? Why many things, of course. Certainly more than could possibly fit into a blog post! But today, I am going to talk about the connection between brain function and numbers.

My name is Natalia Díaz and I am a student of Mathematical Engineering at the University of Santiago de Chile. Ever since I can remember, I have been tantalized by mathematics and medicine (especially brain function). The opportunity to mix both subjects finally arose when I entered college. That is how Neuroscience popped into my life!

To get my degree, I must complete my internship and my thesis. That’s how I started working with my mentors Dr. Patricio Rojas (University of Santiago) and Dr. Patricio Orio (University of Valparaíso). We are investigating, through numerical simulations, the effect of the electrical synapse topology between inhibitory neurons.

For this, we use a neural mathematical model of a mixed network of inhibitory and excitatory neurons of the cerebral cortex, and we study different types of topology (“all with all” or lattice style) of connection between inhibitory neurons characterizing the patterns obtained.

For example, the figure below shows a significant difference in network synchronization using different topologies. In the first yellowy-whitish graph, there is no gap junction (electrical synapse). The second shows a gap junction with a lattice topology, and in the last one we apply a gap junction with an all-to-all topology. To plot this, we use different values for the mean synaptic strength between excitatory neurons (mGsynE) and for the mean synaptic strength between inhibitory neurons (mGsynI). Lots of abbreviations, I know. But I promise they are fun!

neuroscience math medicine
The network synchronization using different topologies of connection between inhibitory neurons.

As I was researching internship opportunities, Dr. P. Rojas told me about Backyard Brains, a go-to company for those who want to tackle neuroscience through mathematics. As for my project, I will be working on our next generation interface products. Coding Neural Interfaces for beginners can be difficult to understand, so I’ll help make the interface by testing an Arduino library Backyard Brains has developed, seeing how easy it is to use, trying to “break” it, and improving the documentation on the library.

This way, someone using our Arduino -based products won’t have to start from scratch as they learn to control devices like robotics, computers, musical instruments, and video games with the signals of their bodies (EOG, EMG, EKG, and EEG). My project will last until the end of January, and depending on my time, I may roll up my sleeves and get into some Python data analysis programming, a long-standing data analysis dream for the Backyard Brains team.

In my spare time (before COVID), I used to travel to my mother’s house in Pichidegua (VI Region), where we’ve always got together as a family and had a good time, as you can see in the above photo. Yes, there are many of us – try to find me! But now due to the quarantine, I have only been in Santiago, which I also love because I can spend time with my boyfriend, Luis. He is very funny, and he’s also a mathematician.


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