Ten new Mong Family Foundation Fellows in Neurotech will work under the mentorship of faculty across Cornell to advance technologies that promise to provide insight into how brains work, as well as strategies to fix them when they don’t.
The fellowships are part of a multimillion-dollar seed grant from the Mong Family Foundation, through Stephen Mong ’92, M.Eng. ’93, MBA ’02, which launched Cornell Neurotech in 2015 as a collaboration between the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering. Its mission is to develop technologies and powerful new tools needed to reveal the inner workings of the brain, with a particular focus on how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.
“We have another terrific group of interdisciplinary Mong fellows and advisers this year,” said Joseph Fetcho, director of Cornell Neurotech-Arts and Sciences and professor of neurobiology and behavior. “We fully expect that their work will catalyze advances in understanding brains and lead to projects of much bigger scope, just as previous Mong support produced collaborations and federally funded projects that helped Cornell become a National Science Foundation NeuroNex Neurotechnology Hub.”
Said Chris Xu, the Mong Family Foundation Director of Cornell Neurotech and professor of applied and engineering physics: “The Mong Fellow program this year builds on our success from last year. The five teams represent a number of graduate fields and bring a wide range of expertise in neurotechnology development. These fellows embody the collaborative spirit of Cornell in pushing the boundaries of interdisciplinary research.”
Mong Junior Fellows Akash Guru, doctoral student in neurobiology and behavior, and Mengran Wang, doctoral student in biophysics, will develop technology that helps reveal how activity in one group of neurons biases activity in another neural circuit in the mouse brain. They will use the tools to investigate the role of serotonin (implicated in depression) in modulating behavior in a circuit-specific manner.
Mong Junior Fellows Priya Balasubramanian, doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, and Chunyan Wu, doctoral student in comparative biomedical sciences, will explore the use of ultrasound-based micro electro-mechanical systems as a means of monitoring and controlling the activity of neurons in brains over much longer time frames than is currently possible.
Mong Junior Fellows Yu-Ting Cheng, doctoral student in neurobiology and Behavior, and Yi-Yun Ho, doctoral student in neurobiology and behavior, will develop novel imaging and stimulation tools to explore pathways from the brain that blunt the sensation of pain by blocking the flow of pain signals through the spinal cord.
Senior Fellows Dawnis Chow, research associate in neurobiology and behavior, and David Sinefeld, postdoctoral associate in applied physics, will combine adaptive optics and three-photon microscopy to allow imaging of the structure and function of individual nerve cells anywhere in the brain of an intact living vertebrate (zebrafish) throughout its life from embryo to adult.
Mong Junior Fellows Michael Reynolds, doctoral student in physics, and Ryan Post, doctoral student in neurobiology and behavior, will combine optically transparent graphene field-effect transistors with calcium imaging to obtain high temporal resolution electrophysiological recordings from identified neurons in mammalian brains.
Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences.