Columbia University in the City of New York

Nov 4, 20216:00 pm

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Brain Insight Lecture: Brain-Computer Interfaces

Featuring Nima Mesgarani, PhD, and Nathan Copeland, moderated by Karen Schroeder, PhD

November 4th, 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm at Online

Register Here

Brain-computer interfaces -- electronic devices that provide a direct connection between the human brain and the external world -- promise to improve life for people with sensory or movement impairments, and maybe for more of us in the future. In this event we explore two sides of brain-computer interfaces. What is the science behind them? How do they affect those who use them? And what is next for them?

In this event we will hear two talks from people who have experience with both sides of the brain-computer interface world: Dr. Nima Mesgarani, Associate Professor at the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University and Nathan Copeland, pioneering research study participant. Following the talks, Dr. Karen Schroeder, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and herself the developer of a device to aid movement based on neural activity, will moderate a conversation with the speakers. Audience questions are welcomed, either submitted during registration or live during the event.

Nima Mesgarani: Brain-controlled hearable technologies to improve listening to one voice in a crowd

Brain-computer interfaces have the potential to assist, augment, or repair human sensory-motor functions. One such scenario is the difficulty we experience when we communicate in crowded places. We can be in a noisy room filled with voices. Yet we are able to shut out almost all of them, focusing only on the one person we are listening to. This is not an easy task, especially for people with hearing loss. I will discuss our scientific efforts to I) understand how different parts of our brain are involved in solving this challenging cognitive problem, and II) how to use this knowledge to engineer a brain-controlled hearing device that can automatically detect the focus of a listener and selectively amplify the voice of a target talker relative to everybody else. Together, these efforts advance our knowledge of the neural circuits that make speech such a robust and reliable means of communication and at the same time, create new hearable technologies that can improve speech communication and reduce listening fatigue in noisy and crowded environments.

Nima Mesgarani is an Associate Professor at the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Language and Speech Processing at Johns Hopkins University and the Neurosurgery Department of the University of California San Francisco. He received the National Science Foundation Early Career Award in 2015, Pew Scholar for Innovative Biomedical Research Award in 2016, and Auditory Neuroscience Young Investigator Awards in 2019. His research has been selected among the top-10 innovations of the year by UNICEF, top-10 breakthroughs by Institute of Physics, and top-10 health inventions by Healthcare Innovation.
In 2004, Nathan Copeland was just 18 years old when a serious car accident left him with quadriplegia. The lack of mobility caused by this made life more difficult and often left him feeling like he would no longer be able to accomplish much with his life. Years later, he was presented with the opportunity to help shape future technologies that could eventually benefit people in similar situations.  When he learned that this opportunity involved being a participant in a research study, he knew he couldn’t refuse. For the last 6 years, Nathan has participated in a brain-computer interface study through the University of Pittsburgh. Using microelectrode arrays implanted in his motor cortex, he is able to control a robotic arm. Additionally, Nathan was the first human implanted with microelectrode arrays in somatosensory cortex, which can be stimulated to provide sensation back from the robotic arm. 

While his time with the research study is finite, Nathan has built up a wealth of experience that will stick with him for the rest of his life, from meeting President Barack Obama to giving presentations in Japan. He hopes to continue sharing his story and insights into using an implanted brain-computer interfaces with the world.

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