The Neuromatch Experience
Neurotransmitter. Synapse. Action Potential. Just the thought of these words excites me. Science excites me.
I remember casually scrolling through Twitter, reading the latest developments in Neuroscience, learning the stress academia entails, and of course, watching the shenanigans of naughty cats, when I came across a poster for Neuromatch Academy online summer school. It was a three-week course in Computational Neuroscience. I had been studying the human mind when it deviates from the ‘norm’ (neuropsychiatric disorders) using Machine learning and neuroimaging tools for a while now but had never explored the full tapestry that Computational Neuroscience had to offer. Additionally, they had an interactive track where you got to learn with other individuals with the same passion for science as you do. So, I just had to apply. The deadline for the application was only 3 hours away though, and I had to write an 800-word and another 300-word essay. After a couple of hours of recycling my past essays and reiterating my ambition, I clicked submit with 25 minutes to spare. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug I tell you.
Two weeks later, I received my acceptance letter. I was chosen to be part of an interactive track, where you are assigned with a group (pod) of ~8 other passionate individuals from across the globe, each eager to explore computational neuroscience. On top of that, each pod also gets a dedicated real time Teaching Assistant (TA)!
Image: My amazing pod in all its glory - Free Auks!
My three-week summer school began on 13th July, and each weekday, I was swamped with five-hour classes, two-hour TA and Crowdcast presentations, and a four-hour group project.
I particularly enjoyed my Group project. The first step was to choose a project topic, and we spent the first week figuring out what we would work on. The tricky part was, there were so many projects to choose from but so little time (2 weeks to complete the project). So, we had a brainstorming session to understand the projects and what each of us would like to work on.
Image: Our Idea Board where we made order out of chaos
Finally, after a bit of convincing, I teamed up with two brilliant individuals, Anne Sofie Jokumsen who had a background in electrophysiology, and Simone Tasciotti who knew Biotechnology with an extensive understanding of the Visual cortex. We zeroed in on the Kay dataset which consisted of fMRI BOLD signals from the Visual cortex and their corresponding image stimuli. Our ultimate goal was to reconstruct the original stimuli images from just their BOLD activity from the primary visual cortex (V1). With the recent advancements in the brain-computer interface and its applicability and challenges in medicine [1, 2], working towards interpreting neuronal recordings is more important now than ever. Our project didn’t completely go according to plan, because science, but we used our combined multidisciplinary background to achieve a good, not great, but good, result! The below video will give you an overview of our project and the nature of Science:
Science is messy and hard, and you don’t always get the results you expect. But, that’s alright. Science is still worth pursuing. Each failed experiment gives you a data-point of what doesn’t work, and that is the first step towards designing an experiment to arrive at what does work.
Science is a ruthless teacher because everything is wrong until it is right. There is no room for approximate answers. And yet, every mistake is a necessary step to move toward the right solution.
Finally, did you know that during summers in Norway, there is sunlight till midnight!? Neither did I. I mean, I’m from India and even on the best of summer days, we only have sunlight till ~7 in the evening. And apparently, in winter months, they seem to have the sun only for 5-6 hours a day. Crazy! Maybe I had read about it in one of my 8th-grade geography lessons but had never met anyone who routinely lived through it. This was just normal for Sofie. Did you know that Simone ate Pasta for lunch every… single... day? I had never considered pasta to be anything more than a snack! Neuromatch isn’t just about science; You’ll get to learn about different cultures too!
So, how was Neuromatch Academy? I had 4 all-nighters in a three-week course, had late-night discussions about neuroscience, and got to build exciting scientific models, all with other passionate individuals. Neuromatch was intense, but I enjoyed every bit of it. There were problems we solved that I wouldn’t have been able to without the help of other multidisciplinary, like-minded individuals. Finally, I learned the scientific approach and how to use it to solve industry problems.
1. Chaudhary U, Birbaumer N, Ramos-Murguialday A. Brain-computer interfaces for communication and rehabilitation [published correction appears in Nat Rev Neurol. 2017 Feb 17;13(3):191]. Nat Rev Neurol. 2016;12(9):513-525. doi:10.1038/nrneurol.2016.113
2. Lazarou I, Nikolopoulos S, Petrantonakis PC, Kompatsiaris I, Tsolaki M. EEG-Based Brain-Computer Interfaces for Communication and Rehabilitation of People with Motor Impairment: A Novel Approach of the 21 st Century. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:14. Published 2018 Jan 31. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00014