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Full details of the announcement can be found on the Beckman Foundation Website.

The funded project title is : Bidirectional Neuroprosthetics with Miniature Optical Brain Machine Interfaces

Optical brain machine interfaces use light to monitor and manipulate activity, but current technologies cannot reliably communicate with more than a few dozen neurons in parallel because they are fundamentally designed to take pictures, not to process neural information. I propose to develop new optical technology and computational methods that are jointly optimized to read and write in individual neurons with light in dense brain tissue, at depths where microscopes cannot resolve focused images.

The first milestone will be to develop a large area interface to communicate with multiple brain regions and address tens of thousands of neurons in parallel, the second will be to develop a miniature interface to perform read-write operations in real time with single-cell specificity in unrestrained mice. If successful, these technologies will provide neuroscientists with new experimental capabilities to reverse engineer the brain functions driving perception, cognition and action, and will pave the way for future applications in neurology and rehabilitation medicine.

Prof. Nicolas Pégard is an assistant professor in the department of Applied Physical Sciences at UNC Chapel Hill, with joint affiliations in the department of Biomedical Engineering, and at the UNC Neuroscience Center. His research in optical instrumentation aims to develop new technologies to monitor and manipulate biological systems with light.

Prof. Pégard received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2014 from Princeton University, and received Postdoctoral training at UC Berkeley. Shortly before joining UNC in 2019, he received a Career Award at the Scientific Interface from the Burroughs Wellcome Foundation. Prof. Pégard’s most recent technology patents include 3D-SHOT, a multiphoton holography technique for optogenetic brain stimulation that is now in use used in several neuroscience laboratories, and DeepCGH, an ultrafast deep-learning technique for real-time computer generated holography.

Prof. Pégard is the founder and a current organizer of a conference series called “Sculpted Light in the Brain” that bring together junior and senior experts in optical neurotechnology, an associate editor for the Journal of Electronic Imaging, and most recently serve as program chair at the 2021 Biophotonics Congress of the Optical Society.