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How to Get Reeled in By Neuroscience – a Mathematician’s Guide

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 Ardiuno 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.


Teacher Feature: Jess S.’s Superb Teacher Research!

With our impending (PAID!) Summer Research Experience for Teachers (RET), based on our previous successful Summer Research Fellowships, we wanted to highlight the successes of our pilot teacher for this upcoming program.

Meet Jessica S., Neuroscientist, Plant Scientist, and Pea-Pod Costume Designer Extraordinaire!

We all had goofy costumes featuring neuroscience research themes for the 4th of July Parade…

Jess participated in the Summer of 201’s undergraduate research fellowship as our first teacher fellow!

From Jess’s first blog post, detailing her research experience:

“Hi! I’m Jessica, a high school Biology/Anatomy&Physiology/Marine Biology/Forensics teacher in southern California.

“I’m the only high school teacher in this summer Fellowship of the Brain but hopefully I’ll make a good enough impression so they’ll invite more teachers in the future… after all, we ARE the market.”

Jess’s grit and hustle led to a successful poster presentation at the end of the summer, and then she began transforming her research into a curriculum for her students!

Then, the following summer of 2019, Jess joined the International Research Fellowship to continue her research, to perform new (pedagogical) research, and preparing articles for publication – which have been accepted and will be published soon!

For a deeper look at her journey, and for a taste of what you might experience during your summer RET, check out all of Jessica’s Blog Posts:

#1 – Introducing Pavlov’s…Plants?
#2 – Plant Nanny: If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try, try again
#3 – A Peagrim’s Progress, or, “Let’s get down to pea-zness”
#4 – New kid on the block

Check out the CALL FOR SCIENCE TEACHERs below to learn more about the program and to apply!


BYB Needs You! Seeking Neuroscience Experiment Intern

Neuroscience Experiment Intern Wanted
(Downtown Ann Arbor)

Compensation: $15/hr based on 40-hour work week
Employment type: full-time internship

Backyard Brains is seeking a neuroscience intern to continue ongoing experiments!

You:
-A STEM undergrad, currently taking a break from the classroom. (Recent grad or gap year preferable)
-Passionate about scientific discovery and designing innovative, impactful experiments
-Experienced in or excited by a future of scientific outreach
-Able to guide a project through every step and take initiative when help is needed
-Looking forward to being a Neuroscience ambassador!
-Living in the Ann Arbor area

The Job:
-Develop and run experiments in ongoing research projects that were started during our summer fellowships
-Originate accessible experiment write-ups for use in BYB content channels
-Short-term internship; can last 3-6 months, depending on availability and project.
-Work in our Ann Arbor office during normal business hours (no parking on-site)

Our experiments have been featured in 9 TED talks and numerous popular science TV shows, such as White Rabbit Project and Bill Nye Saves The World. Your work will provide a basis for further research and even be included in peer-reviewed journal articles (authorship!).

To apply:
Please send your CV and cover letter including your research experience (if any) to hello@backyardbrains.com. Tell us why you are interested in applying for an internship at BYB!

We Are:
Backyard Brains is a DIY Neuroscience company devoted to bringing the brain to everyone! Because everyone has a brain, that complex but extremely fascinating puppet master of the body. We need more people interested in studying the brain because 20% of the world will have a neurological disorder… and there are no cures! Historically, you need to be a graduate student with funding at a major university to study the brain, but not any more! Backyard Brains wants to help everyone be a neuroscientist! We provide affordable neuroscience experiment kits for students of all ages to learn (hands-on) about electrophysiology. Now everyone from schoolchildren to grad students and every grade in between can experiment with similar tools used by real neuroscientists worldwide! What will you discover?