Brain Beacons

How is it that someone can navigate a dark room with little effort? Ila Fiete, an associate professor of neuroscience, researches the codes and computational rules embedded in the brain that make this possible. Neurons called grid cells are at the heart of her research.

Applications of this research

Grappling with disease: 

Problems with navigation occur early on in brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, so understanding grid cells may prove key in understanding neurological disorders. 

Deciphering brain codes: 

Fiete’s mathematical modeling predicts how firing patterns in grid cells change as we move through a space to represent that we are in a different location than before.

“I’m optimistic that within five to ten years neuroscientists will have a better handle on the grid cell circuit than on any cognitive circuit in the brain,” Fiete says.

Engineering solutions: 

Some of the coding principles that have been found hidden within the grid cells are being explored for new types of codes for digital communication. 

Eliminating interference: 

Fiete, Ngoc Tran, a recent addition to the UT Austin math faculty, and Sriram Vishwanath, professor of electrical and computer engineering, work to understand how grid cells transfer signals with high fidelity and perform error correction.