developing self-powered brain activity recorders<p>​Launched in 2013, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is designed to fund research that will ultimately revolutionize the understanding of the human brain, from individual cells to complex neural circuits.<br/></p><img alt="Shantanu Chakrabartty" src="/Profiles/PublishingImages/Chakrabartty_Shantanu.jpg?RenditionID=1" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><div id="__publishingReusableFragmentIdSection"><a href="/ReusableContent/36_.000">a</a></div><p>The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a two-year, BRAIN Initiative grant to engineers at Washington University in St. Louis. Their goal: to develop a self-sustaining brain implant that can record neural activity patterns over the entire life of an organism.</p><p>"We want to be able to record the neural activity from the brain, but we are going to do it in a very unique way," said <a href="/Profiles/Pages/Shantanu-Chakrabartty.aspx">Shantanu Chakrabartty</a>, professor of electrical & systems engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science.</p><p>Instead of directly powering the implant like other neurotechnologies, Chakrabartty plans to use electrical signals generated by the neurons as a power source. The device would continuously record neural activity patterns throughout an organism's lifespan. Since there is no need for external powering or any wireless transmission, the device could be significantly miniaturized to be implanted into the brain of an insect, perhaps someday even a human. </p><blockquote>"It's like plugging a special jump-drive inside the brain," Chakrabartty said.</blockquote>"You continuously log the data and then, when you retrieve the drive, you analyze the data and look for special events that might have occurred during the organism's life-span." These events could then be time correlated with events that are also recorded from other parts of the brain or from the brain of other organisms. <p></p><p>In collaboration with <a href="/Profiles/Pages/Barani-Raman.aspx">Baranidharan Raman</a>, associate professor of biomedical engineering, the research team will first verify the operation of these devices in the brain of the locusts. Using controlled experiments, they will assess how reliably the devices can pick up neural activity specific to olfaction. </p><p>"We know that some traces of the neural activity will be present," Chakabartty said. "The challenge will be: Once we retrieve the device, can we reconstruct what happened? If so, we could ask and answer all sorts of new scientific questions about social interactions, since this tool will be able to measure neural activity when an organism is freely behaving in its natural environment."</p><p> <em>The grant is award R21EY028362 from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, as part of the BRAIN Initiative.</em></p> <SPAN ID="__publishingReusableFragment"></SPAN> <p> <em><br/></em></p>Shantanu ChakrabarttyErika Ebsworth-Goold2017-10-12T05:00:00ZThe National Institutes of Health recently awarded a two-year, BRAIN Initiative grant to engineers at Washington University in St. Louis. “We want to be able to record the neural activity from the brain,” said Shantanu Chakrabartty. are revealing how AI can work in society<p>​What’s the secret to unlocking <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">artificial intelligence</a> (AI) and making it ubiquitous in our everyday lives? The answer may lie with the most abundant animals on earth — insects.<br/></p><img alt="" src="/news/PublishingImages/WashU%20Engineering%20insect%20Venture%20Beat.jpg?RenditionID=1" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>The behavioral adaptations of insects could help commercial organizations overcome a significant hurdle for AI adoption today: cost. The cost to design, produce, and implement this technology is still prohibitive for practical uses. As a result, research-focused competitions have played an important role in addressing current business challenges by applying new design techniques and strategies and showcasing new technology.</p><p>At the <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Silk Road Robotic Innovation Competition</a> (SRRIC) held last month at Xi’an Jiao Tong University in China, a team of engineering students from Washington University in St. Louis demonstrated FlowBot, a low-cost, autonomous vehicle that avoids objects and navigates just like an insect does.<br/></p><p>Insects lack the binocular vision of humans to perceive depth. Instead, they use an optical flow method to perform basic functions, such as obstacle avoidance, stable maneuvering, and navigation. While the insect brain is clearly not as sophisticated as the human brain, insects are among the most agile creatures on this planet. Inspired by this, a team of engineers sought to build a robust, low-power autonomous robot modeled after an insect’s nimble characteristics. One goal for the team of five students was to create a hardware system for intelligent robots at a much lower cost than current hardware platforms.</p><blockquote>While there is an abundance of AI software startups, the design, assembly, and fabrication of hardware components for AI, in addition to the power consumption of hardware systems, are far from cheap. </blockquote><p>For the small and medium-size businesses that can’t afford to use the expensive, heavy-duty, and power-hungry sensors and processors used by current models of self-driving cars, for example, research into alternative technology platforms is critical to widespread adoption.</p><p>Universities from around the world gathered at this year’s SRRIC to demonstrate everything from smart farm robots and an amphibious vehicle for underwater operation to intelligent medical rehabilitation assistants and fabric-weaving robotics for large-scale material manufacturing. When some of the brightest engineering minds in the world are incentivized to further technology development and deepen international engagement, they discover synergies between various areas of expertise and identify opportunities to share resources across borders.</p><p>This competition, and many like it, demonstrates that making AI technology practical and useful for robotics and various IoT applications is not about building a car that is 100 percent reliable or a robot that never bumps into things, but rather about how to develop a system that is resilient and self-healing.</p><blockquote>Some of the most successful examples of resilient robotic technology originated in nature. </blockquote><p>Raytheon, a defense technology company, has been <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">testing</a> autonomous robots with distributed brain structures designed after octopus brains to help the machines better adapt to their surroundings. This technology may one day help control autonomous drone swarms for critical missions.</p><p>Similarly inspired by how an insect perceives and navigates the world, the FlowBot runs an optical flow algorithm. FlowBot uses only a single front-facing camera to achieve autonomous obstacle avoidance capability on a Pi Car four-wheel robot. The efficient visual algorithm doesn’t require significant computational power — perfect for the Pi Car platform, which targets autonomy for small-scale systems.</p><blockquote>This isn’t the first time insects have been used to advance robotic technology.</blockquote> <p> Biological sensing systems are far more complex than their engineered counterparts, and engineers have leveraged the locust’s sense of smell to create new biorobotic sensing systems that could be used in homeland security.</p><p>Engineers aiming to create AI that’s as lifelike as possible should ask themselves: Why reinvent the wheel? By taking advantage of the biological solutions, engineers can cut down on costs for research and development, and align technology with processes that already exist in nature.</p><p>The simplest creatures, like insects, can offer insights and inspirations that significantly advance man-made systems in responsiveness, robustness, and energy efficiency. FlowBot and Pi Car have demonstrated tremendous opportunity for the development and production of cheap and easily reproducible AI swarm products that could bring AI into our daily lives to accomplish sophisticated tasks, even if not every single one succeeds.</p><p> <a href="/Profiles/Pages/Xuan-(Silvia)-Zhang.aspx">Xuan “Silvia” Zhang is an assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering</a> at Washington University in St. Louis.<br/></p>Assistant Professor Silvia Zhang, guest column for Venture Beat’s the secret to unlocking artificial intelligence (AI) and making it ubiquitous in our everyday lives? Assistant Professor Xuan “Silvia” Zhang's guest column appeared on engineer develops key mathematical formula for driving quantum experiments<p>​Since he was a graduate student, Washington University in St. Louis systems engineer <a href="/Profiles/Pages/Jr-Shin-Li.aspx">Jr-Shin Li </a>has provided specific mathematical information to experimentalists and clinicians who need it to perform high-resolution magnetic resonance applications, such as body MRIs for medical diagnosis or spectroscopy for uncovering protein structures. Now, after more than a decade of work, he has developed a formula that researchers can use to generate that information themselves. <br/></p><img alt="Jr Shin Li" src="/Profiles/PublishingImages/Li_Jr-Shin.jpg?RenditionID=1" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><div id="__publishingReusableFragmentIdSection"><a href="/ReusableContent/36_.000">a</a></div><p>​Li, the Das Family Career Development Distinguished Associate Professor in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and his collaborators have derived a mathematical formula to design broadband pulse sequences to excite a population of nuclear spins over a wide band of frequencies. Such a broadband excitation leads to enhanced signal or sensitivity in diverse quantum experiments across fields from protein spectroscopy to quantum optics.<br/></p><p>The research, the first to find that designing the pulse can be done analytically, is published in <a href=""><em>Nature Communications</em></a> Sept. 5. <br/></p><p>"This design problem is traditionally done by purely numerical optimization," Li said. "Because one has to design a common input — a magnetic field to excite many, many particles — the problem is challenging. In many cases in numerical optimization, the algorithms fail to converge or take enormous amounts of time to get a feasible solution."<br/></p><p>For more than a decade, Li has sought a better way for pulse design using the similarity between spins and springs by using numerical experiments. Spin is a form of angular momentum carried by elementary particles. Spin systems are nonlinear and difficult to work with, Li said, while spring systems, or harmonic oscillators, are linear and easier to work with. While a doctoral student at Harvard University, Li found a solution by projecting the nonlinear spin system onto the linear spring system, but was unable to prove it mathematically until recently. <br/></p><blockquote>"We have a very rigorous proof that such a projection from nonlinear to linear is valid, and we have also done a lot of numerical simulations to demonstrate the discovery," Li said. </blockquote><p>"My collaborator, Steffan Glaser, has been in this field of NMR spectroscopy for more than 20 years, and he is confident that if the quantum pulses perform well in computer simulations, they may perform the same in experimental systems." <br/></p><p>The team plans to conduct various experiments in magnetic resonance to verify the analytical invention. <br/></p><p>The theoretical work opens up new avenues for pulse sequence design in quantum control. Li plans to create a website where collaborators can enter their parameter values to generate the pulse formula they will need in their quantum experiments.<br/></p><div style="color: #666666; font-style: italic; font-size: 0.9em; padding: 10px; text-align: center;"> <img src="/news/PublishingImages/jrshinresearch3.jpg" alt="" style="padding-bottom: 10px;"/> <br/> Mapping spins to spring. The spin and spring trajectories (right) following an optimal pulse sequence (left). </div><p>Li's research focuses on dynamics and control, optimization and computational mathematics, dynamic learning and data science. In particular, he is interested in studying complex systems arising from emerging applications, such as brain networks, social behaviors, health and quantum mechanical systems. In 2010, Li received a Young Investigator Award from the AFOSR, and in 2008 received an NSF Career Award. <br/></p> <span><hr/></span> <p>Li J-S, Ruths J, Glaser SJ. Exact broadband excitation of two-level systems by mapping spins to springs. <em>Nature Communications</em>, Sept. 5, 2017, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00441-7.<br/></p><p>Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.<br/></p> <SPAN ID="__publishingReusableFragment"></SPAN><br/>Jr-Shin Li Beth Miller2017-09-05T05:00:00ZFor more than a decade, Jr-Shin Li has sought a better way for pulse design using the similarity between spins and springs by using numerical experiments.<p>​Decade of work pays off<br/></p> Joint Program seniors learn to apply mechanical engineering to biology<p>​Engineering students often say they want more real-world, hands-on experience. A group of 23 senior mechanical engineering students in the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program got both through their senior capstone design projects done in new partnership with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.<br/></p><img alt="" src="/news/PublishingImages/WashU%20UMSL%20Joint%20Program%20Passive%20Solar%20Tracker.JPG?RenditionID=1" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><div id="__publishingReusableFragmentIdSection"><a href="/ReusableContent/36_.000">a</a></div><p>The partnership, the first of its kind for the Joint Program, allowed the 23 students in the course to team with four researchers at the Danforth Center who needed help designing projects to make their research run more smoothly. The Danforth Center mentors invited students to the facility to tour their labs to get a first-hand look at how the labs work and how the projects would benefit their research.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>Researchers at the Danforth Center proposed 17 projects, and each of the eight teams chose their favorite. Once the students received their assignments from course instructor Mark Jakiela, the Lee Hunter Professor of Mechanical Design and program director for the Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, they had six weeks to complete their design and prototype. Their budgets for the projects were $200-$300 each.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>Veena Veena, director of the Plant Tissue Culture and Transformation Facility at the Danforth Center, mentored two teams.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>“We are all biologists here, and having this collaborative effort that puts two different types of minds and perspectives together has been very beneficial for us,” she said.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p> <a href="/Profiles/Pages/Joseph-OSullivan.aspx">Jody O’Sullivan</a>, dean of the Joint Program and the Samuel Sachs Professor of Electrical Engineering at WashU, said it was the first time the program has worked with a research organization for the senior capstone design projects.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><blockquote>“It’s a wonderful example of how we can collaborate across two universities and Danforth Plant Science Center,” O’Sullivan said. “We often work with companies or other faculty members. This is really unique in that it’s working with a leading research center that is distinct from the university and apply some of the talent from our students to meet those projects.”</blockquote><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>Among those projects were the Passive Solar Tracker, which is a tracking system that allows the Danforth Center’s PheNode, a farm-ready, solar-powered environmental sensor and phenotyping station for crops, to follow the sun for a longer period of time. Team members James Eimer, Robert Stretch and Pat Kraus developed a device prototype for about $200 that uses the sun’s heat to operate the tracker.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>“The mentors were really open to our ideas,” Stretch said. “They were willing to meet with us and were hands-on without being overbearing. They seemed genuinely excited to work with us.”</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>Eimer and Kraus completed their degrees in six years, and Stretch completed his in five and a half, all while working full time.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>Another team developed a device that would wrap petri dishes with plastic wrap to save researchers the manual labor.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>Isaac Asaro, John Hahler and Wade Twellman developed a low-voltage media plate wrap using a simple electrical box, a hockey puck, a constant pressure switch, and some custom-fabricated pieces to make their prototype, which wrapped a petri dish in less than 15 seconds.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>“It was nice to do a project that meant something,” said Twellman, who, along with his teammates, completed the Joint Program in seven years.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>Asaro said the scope of the project was fun.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>“We came out to meet with Veena, and she gave us a tour of the facility here,” Asaro said. “We could see where our device would go and how we needed to do it.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>John Jensen, who was on a team that created a seed cross-breeze distance tester, said one challenge to the project was that the team met only once a week.</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>“Unfortunately, that just leads to a lot of late nights,” he said. “For going into real work, an experience like this is good to show you what happens at a place of business.”</p><p style="color: #000000; font-family: "times new roman"; font-size: medium;"></p><p>The University of Missouri-St. Louis and Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program combines strengths of the two universities to provide a flexible engineering program for the St. Louis community. Students in the joint program take the pre-engineering core of mathematics, physics, chemistry, humanities, social sciences, and some engineering subjects through the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Students take upper-level engineering courses and laboratories at Washington University in the evenings.<br/></p> <SPAN ID="__publishingReusableFragment"></SPAN><br/><br/> The Passive Solar Tracker (above) is a tracking system that allows the Danforth Center’s PheNode, a farm-ready, solar-powered environmental sensor and phenotyping station for crops, to follow the sun for a longer period of time. Beth Miller2017-09-01T05:00:00Z“It’s a wonderful example of how we can collaborate across two universities and Danforth Plant Science Center,” said Professor Jody O’Sullivan. University sets records in innovation, entrepreneurship<p>​During the past fiscal year, the Washington University in St. Louis Office of Technology Management (OTM) reported a number of record figures as a result of the innovative technologies developed by university faculty.<br/></p><img alt="" src="/news/PublishingImages/OTM-graphic-760x565.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>In fiscal year 2017, which concluded June 30, OTM saw record numbers in the following areas: patent filings, invention disclosures, revenue-generating agreements and new startup companies.</p><p>“Over the past year, our office has made a commitment to providing increased outreach to university faculty,” OTM Director Nichole Mercier said. “The results have been fantastic, as faculty members have come back with new inventions that show tremendous commercial potential.”</p><p>For the fourth consecutive year, OTM reported increases in both patent filings and novel invention disclosures from university inventors.</p><p>The 324 patents filed on university inventions in fiscal 2017 represent a 22 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. In addition, Washington University was listed on the National Academy of Inventors’ (NAI) Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Utility Patents in 2016, ranking 49th, with 48 granted U.S. patents. That ranking was up from 88th (27 granted patents) on the 2015 NAI list.</p><p>There were also a record 205 novel invention disclosures submitted by university faculty to OTM in fiscal 2017, representing a 16 percent increase from the previous year. This steady stream of new disclosures allowed OTM to finalize a record-high 108 for-fee agreements during the year. These agreements generated $16.9 million in revenue for the university and its inventors.</p><blockquote>Washington University also continued its push for entrepreneurism, as university faculty launched eight new startup companies in fiscal 2017.</blockquote> <p>This marked a record high for startups launched in a given fiscal year. In total, 19 new startup companies have been launched during the past three fiscal years.</p><p>“It’s exciting to see more and more of our faculty members pursuing commercialization via startup company formation,” Mercier said. “These past few years have seen a substantial increase in the amount of entrepreneurial activity among both faculty and students. It’s always rewarding to see university IP being taken into the marketplace, and more importantly, having the potential to benefit society.”</p><p>Since 2015, OTM has worked to increase the number of faculty startups with the inception of its Quick Start License for faculty inventors. The streamlined approach makes the licensing process easier, allowing university IP to be commercialized faster.</p><p>OTM continues taking steps to encourage startup companies, such as strategic partnerships with both university and external partners, all of which provide faculty members with the resources and opportunities to create successful businesses.</p><p>These new startup companies are based primarily on Washington University intellectual property and were launched in fiscal 2017 (July 2016-June 2017). Listed are the company names, the Washington University employees associated with the company and/or its base technology.</p><p> <strong>ATM Cardiac Diagnostics/R. Martin Arthur, Scott Marrus, Jason Trobaugh (Engineering)<br/></strong>Noninvasive cardiac evaluation (NICE) software combines data such as ultrasound images, electrical activity and anatomical data to inform clinicians about a patient’s heart health.</p><p> <strong>AVVI Biotech/Dan Barouch, MD, PhD; Scott Handley; Rachel Presti, PhD, MD; Larissa Thackray; Herbert “Skip” Virgin, PhD, MD; David Wang; Guoyan Zhao (Medicine)<br/></strong>AVVI Biotech is focused on developing novel recombinant adenoviruses that can be used to express promising vaccine candidates.</p><p> <strong>CalPACT/Lihong Wang (Engineering)<br/></strong>CalPACT is working to provide imaging systems based on Wang’s photoacoustic computed tomography (PACT) technology. This imaging modality provides information about anatomy and physiology in a nonradiative way, making it ideal for screening or longitudinal studies. Wang is now at the California Institute of Technology.</p><p> <strong>DxGPS LLC/Victor Song, Ze-Zhong Ye (Medicine)<br/></strong>Known as Diffusion Basis Spectrum Imaging, this imaging technique detects disease and/or injury within the central nervous system.</p><p> <strong>Encodia Inc./Ben Borgo, Tom Cohen, Donald Elbert, James Havranek, Justin Melendez, Robi Mitra, Lee Tessler (Medicine, Engineering)<br/></strong>Encodia is developing next-generation protein sequencing technology that would allow for the simultaneous sequencing and quantification of many proteins from complex mixtures (ex. isolated from a tumor cell).</p><p> <strong>Precision Virologics/David Curiel, PhD, MD; Igor Dmitriev (Medicine)<br/></strong>Precision Virologics’ adenovirus vaccines provide a new approach to the expanding threat of emerging infectious diseases, such as Zika and dengue.</p>​​​​​ <div> <br/> </div><div> <br/> <div>​​<br/> <div class="cstm-section"><h3>Entrepr​​eneurship at WashU</h3><ul><li> <a href="/our-school/initiatives/Pages/entrepreneurship.aspx">WashU engineers </a>are engaged in St. Louis' startup community and contribute to more than 20 accelerators and incubators.</li><li> <a href="">WashU Fuse</a> - igniting innovation and connecting entrepreneurs​<br/></li></ul></div>​​​</div> <br/> </div><br/>The 324 patents filed on university inventions in fiscal 2017 represent a 22 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.Tom Rodgers2017-08-24T05:00:00ZThe 324 patents filed on university inventions in fiscal 2017 represent a 22 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.