1. To expand our knowledge of how the brain plans and controls motor behaviour;
2. To translate these principles into novel, biologically-inspired engineering and clinical applications.
Researchers in neurophysiology, psychology, and computer science at the Western University, York University, and Queen's University are teaming up to train the next generation of brain scientists. Led by Dr. Mel Goodale, Director of the Brain and Mind Institute at Western, the team hopes to bridge the gaps between brain research, robotics, and medicine. The emphasis will be on how information from our senses is used to control skilled movements. Although work on artificial intelligence has made great strides and there are now computers that can beat the best chess players in the world, even the most advanced robots lack the dexterity of even a six-year old child when it comes to picking up and moving a chess piece on the board. By studying how the human brain selects and controls such movements, the team hopes to uncover principles that can be used to design better robots - and at the same time, gain insights into what goes wrong in individuals who have suffered a stroke or some other kind of brain damage or disease. Students and young researchers from a wide range of backgrounds, including engineering, mathematics, computer science, physiology, and psychology, will be recruited into this new interdisciplinary training program. Working closely with researchers in all three universities, the trainees will learn to construct mathematical models of how the brain selects and controls motor action, and to design and carry out experiments to test these models using brain imaging and other state-of-the-art techniques. The mathematical models (and the biological principles they describe) will lead to the development of novel engineering applications in everything from prosthetic devices for patients to interactive video displays and robots working in the operating room and automated assembly lines. It is hoped that this new training program will promote the successful transfer of basic research on the brain into the clinic and other settings where it can make a tangible contribution to the health and well-being of Canadians.