Edward Ester: Category and choice signals in human visual cortex
I received my Ph.D from the University of Oregon in 2011 and joined the faculty at UNR in 2020. I think that undergraduate research experience is a critical component of a well-rounded college education, and my lab typically hosts 2-3 undergraduate volunteers each semester. Many of these students have won awards and recognition for their work and gone on to internationally renowned graduate, medical, and professional programs. I want students working in my lab to play an important role in all parts of the scientific process, from project conceptualization to data collection and analysis to the dissemination of findings at scientific conferences and through scientific papers. Many current and former undergraduate researchers in the lab have presented their findings at national conferences and have been co-authors on peer-reviewed publications.
Categorization refers to the process of assigning meaning to stimuli. Categorization allows us to learn new skills, distinguish between physically similar but conceptually different objects, and to apply our existing knowledge about the world to new objects that we've never seen before. Our lab studies how the brain assigns category labels to visual stimuli, and we've been developing a theory which predicts that these labels are generated and represented by motor systems that control how we interact with objects in the environment. To test this hypothesis, we'll be using non-invasive measurements of human brain activity - including electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - to measure brain responses in brain areas associated with sensory processing and motor planning while participants learn arbitrary new categories. Students working on this project will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with EEG and fMRI and analyzing their own data. This project will involve a lot of computer programming, and while no prior experience is required a willingness to try new things and help troubleshoot challenging technical problems is be a necessity! Students will also be expected to present preliminary data at a University-sponsored undergraduate research symposium and may also have the opportunity to attend and/or present findings at a scientific conference.