Carnegie Mellon's Focus
Understanding the language of the brain
Our brains are at the center of our conscious lives, processing relevant information, recording and using it to guide our thought and action. A fit mental life depends on the brain.
To understand the brain’s power to yield an able mind, we must understand the brain’s own “language” and how its different parts communicate with each other.
Research at CMU and, in particular, within the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, promises to decode this neural language by probing the brain’s complex circuitry and electrical signals.
Drawing on CMU’s strengths in computing, mathematical and statistical analysis, brain imaging, and direct electrical recording of neurons in the brain, CMU researchers are taking the first steps toward understanding this language.
Such research yields tangible results in areas such as deciphering the human brain’s motor commands so as to make possible brain-guidance of prosthetic limbs.
Restoring and repairing brain function
Thinking, perceiving, remembering, learning, and feeling are abilities of our minds that depend on the remarkable structure of the brain. Yet these powers can be impaired by damage to the brain.
To restore these abilities, we must first understand the neural architecture of the brain and how its structure supports a functioning mind.
Drawing on expertise in computer simulation, machine learning, psychological experimentation, brain imaging, and direct brain recording, CMU researchers are mapping neural architecture and connecting structural abnormalities to the damaged mind.
Supporting this work, CMU has invested heavily in state-of-the-art neuroimaging facilities, for example, the new Scientific Imaging and Brain Research Center.
This is an essential step to understanding and intervening in cases such as the inability to see faces, dyslexia, autism and Alzheimer’s, as well as many other neuropsychological disorders.
Understanding and enhancing how we learn
The power of the mind is based not only on the brain’s computing power, which exceeds our most powerful computers, but also on our brain’s remarkable flexibility to adapt to new situations by learning. How does the brain’s intricate structure support learning about an ever changing, ever challenging world and how can we enhance this ability?
Research at CMU is two-pronged:
- scientists are probing the fundamental mechanics of learning as implemented by the brain,
- but they are also offering practical tools to enhance this ability such as those developed by the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center and the Open Learning Initiative.
Maintaining a healthy mind and body
The world has become more complicated and more stressful.
While the brain is remarkably flexible, modern life imposes continual pressure on our minds and bodies. It has become more important than ever to maintain the health of the mind and body by exercising the brain.
The challenge for the new century is to identify the most effective ways to cope so as to preserve the health of mind and body.
Researchers at CMU are focusing on understanding the best strategies in confronting this daily challenge, specifically by addressing how we make choices, how we devise strategies to navigate challenges and how we cope with stress.
Drawing on strengths in the science of decision-making and the psychology of stress reduction, current research promises to articulate these strategies.
Building smarter machines with brain power
In the 21st century, a key challenge is to build smarter machines that enhance human productivity and facilitate interactions with the world.
While current machines are powerful, certain basic abilities of the mind, such as robust perception of the world around us or basic common sense, remain beyond the reach of current machines. Understanding the brain can be important to creating a new generation of machines with the mental abilities we take for granted.
Research here has opened avenues to more intelligent computers that enhance security; to more flexible robots that can aid exploration in dangerous and alien environments, or assist aging or injured individuals; and to remarkable prosthetics that promise to help those with lost or disabled limbs.