The University of Tulsa will soon improve its interdisciplinary research and training with a new Department of Defense award received by Associate Professor of Computer Science Roger Mailler. The Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) award, totaling more than $1 million, will allow faculty working in neuroscience to purchase a state-of-the-art scanning confocal microscope that can provide a clearer picture of individual neurons.
“The system will be used like an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), similar to the one used to study humans,” Mailler said. “Instead of measuring how a nervous system produces behavior on a scale of tens of thousands of neurons, this system does it on the scale of individual neurons.”
The microscope will be used to reverse engineer the nervous system of roundworms in ongoing research titled “Choosing a Direction: Neural Models of Decision Making.” In this study, Mailler and a group of TU scientists will investigate how these creatures regulate their speed and direction. Roundworms, or specifically Caenorhabditis elegans, exhibit qualities of autonomy and adaptability. Researchers in this project hope that it will be a stepping stone toward developing advanced, adaptive machines that can recognize and respond to the outside world, also known as intelligent systems.
According to Mailler, “The technology is the most sophisticated technique available, relying on the fusion of genetic engineering, cutting-edge optics and advanced image processing and data analysis.”
The technology can essentially analyze individual neurons and reverse engineer nervous systems using light. This empowers more than just current research projects, but also opens the door to pioneering discoveries in multiple disciplines.
In addition to the benefits to TU researchers, it also affords students the opportunity to train on cutting-edge technology that will set them apart in science, technology, engineering and math fields. This award opens access to one-of-a-kind tools exceeding anything available in the southcentral United States, distinguishing TU as a True Blue institution for faculty and student-researchers alike.