The term “brain-computer interface” is completely foreign to many and conjures up images of people being controlled by machines and robots that have taken over the world. Yet, the idea of a computer communicating with a brain is not strange or scary to Qinpu He ’16. As a current John C. Young (JCY) Scholar, she has been working on a yearlong project entitled “Brain Computer Interface: Controlling Machines Using Minds.”
“I have been interested in the field of Brain Computer Interface (BCI) since high school,” says He. “I watched a documentary about BCI and since then I have become fascinated with the field.”
He explains that she decided to come to the United States from her home in Chengdu, China, in order to pursue her undergraduate studies. “There is wonderful education in the field of neuroscience here,” she adds.
Prior to her John C. Young project, He had already engaged in two BCI-related research projects, one at the Electronic Science and Technology University of Chengdu, China, and the other at Northwestern University in Chicago.
“After having the internship my junior year winter term in China, I decided to apply for the JCY program and to do an independent study in BCI,” she says. “I believe I can learn a lot from this experience and that it can prepare me for my future studies.”
As a double major in behavioral neuroscience and mathematics, He’s John C. Young project is relevant to both of her fields of study. She is also a Brown Fellow.
He says that her favorite aspect of being a John C. Young scholar has been that the project provides her with both funding and, more importantly, an advisor, who is is Christine Shannon, chair of the computer science program and Haggin Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science.
“Dr. Shannon gave me a great deal of help during the study,” explains He. “I learned so much from her, and I really enjoyed having this wonderful opportunity to work with a professor on my own.”
Shannon also has nothing but praise for her advisee. She appreciated He’s commitment to the project and her perseverance, noting that she even consulted with the manufacturer of the hardware she wanted to use when she discovered it was not supported by her chosen software program.
“She was very resourceful,” says Shannon, “enlisting friends on campus, Shuqi Liu and Ye Sheng, to attempt to write the code that would provide an interface.”
Shannon notes that He’s project was not one that made new discoveries, but that rather it provided experience with software and hardware that would not be typical at the undergraduate level.
“The perseverance and motivation of her small band of collaborators is certainly laudable,” she says. “The experiences they have had have surely made an impact on their preparation as scientists.”
He will begin pursuing a Ph.D. in Computation Science at the University of Chicago this fall, where she will continue doing research in the BCI field with neuroprosthetic-related studies.
by Mary Trollinger
April 27, 2016