While you’re reading this, your brain cells are talking to each other. Biology professor Bingni Brunton would like to eavesdrop—sort of. A computational neuroscientist, Brunton uses computer-based methods to explore how our brains process information, make decisions, and execute tasks from walking to speaking.
“The cells in your brain literally talk to each other using electricity,” says Brunton, a member of the UW Institute for Neuroengineering and a data-science fellow with the UW eScience Institute. “The way you experience the world, produce sensations, reason, and experience emotion are all built on a foundation of electrical processes going on within and between brain cells.”
Brunton’s research focuses on understanding how this electrical information is translated into computational processes. After scientists use electrodes to measure and record the electrical activity among groups of neurons and individual neurons in the brain, Brunton decodes the resulting mountain of data to decipher the computational processes that underlie this electrical activity.
Given the complexity of the brain, Brunton could spend a lifetime studying it, which suits her just fine. “Each of our brains is individual and deeply personal to who we are,” she says. “We know a lot about some things, like the interactions of individual proteins, but how do you get from that to a person running or dancing or doing science? That’s still completely mysterious.”
As she continues to probe at the mysteries of the human brain, she is supported by research funding from the Washington Research Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.