Brown University School of Engineering

Engineering Seminar: Electrical and Computer Engineering

Thursday, September 13, 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm


Engineering Research Center, 125

Dr. Drew Robson, Rowland Institute at Harvard University, will present a talk: “Brain on the Run: Whole Brain Neural Imaging in Freely Swimming Larval Zebrafish”.

Abstract: The ability to image neural activity at single cell resolution throughout the brain was a major breakthrough in systems neuroscience over the last decade. Our lab is at the forefront of developing technologies that enable comprehensive recording and manipulation of neural activity during natural complex behaviors such as navigation and foraging. We recently developed a tracking microscope that enables whole brain cellular resolution neural imaging in freely swimming larval zebrafish, which greatly expands the repertoire of natural behaviors that are now accessible to neuroscientists. Our state of the art motion cancellation system applies optimal control theory to a high speed motorized stage system to cancel brain motion in three dimensions. This motion cancellation system overcomes the immense technical challenges posed by this animal, including a peak acceleration of 20 m/s^2, similar to the acceleration of a Formula One race car. We have combined this motion cancellation system with fast stroboscopic structured light microscopy to image the brain of a freely swimming larval zebrafish across multiple hours. The unprecedented ability to record whole brain activity for hours under natural conditions has allowed us to uncover the neural networks underlying persistent behavioral states. In particular, we have uncovered an oscillatory neural network that modulates motivation and attention, which may form a fundamental organizing principle of behavior that is conserved from worms to humans. This work has parallels to recent work in the deep learning community on neural state machines, and hints at a grand unification of systems neuroscience with the fundamental notion of computation put forward by Turing over 80 years ago.

Bio: Dr. Robson obtained a B.A. in Mathematics from Princeton University, relishing the opportunity to derive results from first principles and laying the foundation for his adventures in engineering, optics, and physics. Versant in two programming languages by the age of 6, he has been building custom computing devices his entire life. During his PhD in Harvard’s Molecular and Cellular Biology department, he pioneered the use of larval zebrafish for systems neuroscience, designing and building custom two-photon microscopes paired with closed loop behavior to enable whole brain calcium imaging at cellular resolution. To push beyond the limited behavioral repertoire of tethered animals, he joined the Rowland Institute as a fellow in 2014 and developed the first tracking microscope for whole brain cellular resolution imaging of neuronal activity in freely swimming larval zebrafish. Dr. Robson continues to apply mechanical and electrical engineering, optics, high performance computing, and quantitative modeling to uncover the working principles of the brain.