Ferris receives new NSF award to study how the brain functions during real-world mobile activities

NSF New Release: NSF funds new integrative approaches to cognitive science, neuroscience

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a total of $16 million in 18 awards to cross-disciplinary teams from across the United States to conduct innovative research focused on neural and cognitive systems. The award will contribute to NSF’s investments in support of Understanding the Brain and the BRAIN Initiative, a coordinated research effort that seeks to accelerate the development of neurotechnologies.

Leading the effort to help unravel the mysteries of the brain from UF is Dr. Daniel Ferris, Robert W. Adenbaum Professor & senior associate chair in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering and co-investigator, Dr. Rachael Seidler, professor, Department of Applied Physiology & Kinesiology in the College of Health & Human Performance.

Ferris and his team will focus on cognitive and neural processes in realistic, complex environments, but will also include advances in neuroengineering and brain-inspired concepts and designs. His team will investigate the intricate relationship between how individuals perceive their surroundings and how they operate within those surroundings.

Through this project, the researchers will combine high-density electroencephalography (EEG) with independent component analysis and source localization to identify brain areas involved in the control and active perception of moving in real-world urban and natural environments, including playing tennis (an interactive goal-directed whole-body task with more complex motion dynamics than running). Subjects will include individuals that are physically intact and a group with reduced physical agility and locomotor stability (individuals with lower limb amputations).

“Humans are mobile creatures and use their brains to move and interact with their environment. In the past, motion artifacts have prevented researchers from studying how electrocortical patterns change in mobile subjects,” said Ferris. “Our dual-layer design allows for removal of motion artifacts to recover high fidelity electrocortical signals during walking. We think we can also use it to examine other high motion tasks like running and playing tennis.”

This project will accomplish advanced training of two female doctoral students and multiple underrepresented undergraduate students in the science and engineering of human-machine interfaces.

A product of the project will be a podcast by Seidler on "The Brain Science of Tennis" that will be distributed through University of Florida social media outlets to increase public scientific literacy and public engagement with neuroscience and neurotechnology.

Ferris’ team will also host a summer day camp on neural engineering for high school girls that will teach students from disadvantaged backgrounds basic principles of neuroscience and biomedical engineering as a complement to the ongoing research.

Creating and validating new mobile brain imaging methods with both good temporal and spatial resolution are necessary to advance neuroscience and facilitate non-invasive brain-computer interfaces for real-world use. The research could lead to better diagnosis and treatment if individuals with movement disorders, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury or stroke.