The New Scientists
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graduate students in neuroengineering are focusing on such questions
as how the retina processes motion information. Pedro Irazoqui-Pastor,
with a master’s in electrical engineering from the University
of New Hampshire, is designing a chip that can be implanted in an
animal brain to record electrical activity and then transmit that
data to a computer “so we can look at how the cells in the
brain work without disturbing the animal in its natural environment.”
the IGERT programs, it would be far more difficult for students
like Rickus and Irazoqui-Pastor to straddle both worlds.
program made it possible for me to explore these unknown areas without
just floundering in the wind,” Rickus says. “It sets
up lines of communication and formalizes them.”
cross-talk begins in classes, laboratories, at retreats and journal
club meetings where graduate students present and critique recently
published papers and discuss them with faculty. “That’s
when the biologists get the engineers up to speed, and the engineers
bring the biologists up to date,” Rickus says.
goes on is more than casual conversation; it’s something akin
to rewiring the brain patterns of scientific minds that have been
trained to think in a particular way, opening them up to seek and
understand new approaches to problems. A large part of that is learning
the language of the various disciplines.
example, to an engineer the word “vector” is a mathematical
term that refers to a quantity that has direction as well as magnitude.
But to a biological scientist, a vector is something that transmits
an infection or carries a piece of DNA. While a neuroscientist is
talking about a virus, an engineer would be thinking about a mathematical