Building computational models to understand living organisms
Environmental Science Major (College of Arts & Sciences)
Neuroscience Major (College of Arts & Sciences)
Eduardo Izquierdo (College of Arts & Sciences)
One of the grand scientific challenges of this century is to understand how the brain works and how living organisms produce behavior. To address this challenge, a detailed map between neural circuitry, neural activity, and behavior must be constructed. In addition to experimental tools, such a challenge demands the construction and analysis of computational models of the behaving organisms. In this project, you will work with me and a graduate student to develop neural network models of living organisms and employ optimization techniques, like evolutionary algorithms, to find configurations of the neural network that can generate organism-like behavior. We will then analyze the resulting solutions to understand how they produce adaptive behavior. This insight can then be used to accelerate the discovery and understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying specific behaviors of interest. The project is open to exploring a number of different questions within this theme: you might decide to focus on how to improve the learning algorithm to produce better solutions; or you might focus on producing agents that can do multiple behaviors seamlessly; or how to produce neural circuits that are robust to noise and changes in the environment.
Technology or Computational Component
Interested students will participate in all aspects of the research process. The student will be programming in Python to develop a simulation of neural circuits and to analyze the resulting data from the simulations. In addition to programming skills, this project will involve brainstorming and familiarizing themselves with the literature on a subject of interest.