UH Engineering

Research

How does the human brain process sensory information? And what happens inside the brain and the mind when things go awry? These two exciting and critical questions guide research in our laboratory. In particular, we are interested in how the brain, unarguably the most complex device for reasoning and calculating ever evolved, processes visual, auditory, somatosensory and multisensory information under sub-optimal or impoverished conditions. We strongly believe in applying a principle from management in our research: vertical integration. That is to say, we formulate hypotheses, design experiments, acquire our own data thereby giving engineering students valuable wet-lab experience, and analyze these data in-house. Our philosophy has therefore led us to attack the above questions—and others stemming from them—using a smorgasbord of cutting-edge recording techniques and state-of the-art analysis measures originating from various disciplines including signal processing (electrical engineering), applied mathematics, and neurophysiology. Depending on the research question and project, the laboratory uses some combination from sensory psychophysics, eye tracking, magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG), impedance cardiography (ICG), electrocardiography (ECG), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), graph theory, time frequency analysis, chaos theory, digital signal processing, stochastic processes, and various linear and non-linear regression approaches. We have a number of collaborations with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Center.

Currently, the laboratory is interested in the following issues:

  1. The function(s) of sleep and sensory information processing in sleep. We spend a third of our time in sleep, and yet researchers have little idea of why we sleep and what critical function, if any, sleep serves in humans and across phylogeny. Our laboratory asks how the brain continues to process sensory information in sleep and how memories are formed and consolidated during sleep.
  2. Biomarkers of autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a family of developmental disorders, whose incidence is increasing rapidly. Knowing exactly how the brains of individuals with autism differ from those without (also called neurotypicals) is arguably a critical piece of knowledge in developing interventions, treatments, and therapies to allay the symptoms of autism. Our laboratory investigates brain function and connectivity in autism with the goal of uncovering a reliable brain biomarker of autism.
  3. Mind-body interaction. To put it more scientifically, we are interested in the interaction between the central and autonomic nervous systems during the processing of sensory information.
  4. Perceptual statistics. Statistics is extensively used in distinguishing significant from insignificant findings. Statistics are ubiquitous in the present time and provide an important quality control on research. However, little is known about how the perceptual and cognitive systems of the brain determine whether a particular piece of information is practically significant, namely the extent to which the brain veridically perceives statistical information. One expects, on the basis of prospect theory, that our perceptions of statistics may not be reflective of reality, but exactly how remain a mystery. We are at the forefront of these issues.