This past October, Mila core academic member and Université de Montréal Assistant Professor Guillaume Lajoie and Professor Amy Orsborn of the University of Washington were honoured as part of The Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB) Pilot Awards, a branch of the prestigious Simons Foundation—one of the largest charitable organizations in the United States specializing in mathematics and physical sciences; life sciences; autism research; and education and outreach.
Professors Lajoie and Orsborn’s project, ‘Using brain-machine interfaces to identify and manipulate computational principles of learning,’ aims to uncover computational principles of learning motor behaviours. For example, learning a complex motor skill like playing a musical instrument requires changes in connections between many neurons in the brain. While scientists understand a great deal about how pairs of neurons alter their connections, the co-principal investigators hope to gain insight into how multiple brain areas collaborate to guide learning across networks of neurons, a process that is far less clear.
“This SCGB Pilot award will be instrumental to advance this ambitious research endeavour. It will enable complex experiments and support research trainees both in Seattle and in Montreal, as well as enable collaborative meetings and scientific result dissemination,” said Professor Lajoie. “This award enables my collaborator and I to benefit from the guidance of a select group of internationally renowned researchers supported by the Simons Foundation. This is an invaluable resource and will be pivotal in how our research project evolves and delivers meaningful impact.”
The SCGB aims to support advances in systems and computational neuroscience with the goal of expanding our knowledge of the brain’s internal processes. Over two years, the researchers will receive $640,000 USD in funding from the foundation.
The research project is already well underway as theoretical efforts and preliminary data analysis have been carried out for over a year thanks to initial support from an IVADO Postdoctoral scholarship awarded to Alexandre Payeur, a postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Lajoie’s research group at Mila. Last year, the principal investigators were also awarded a joint Google Research Faculty award which contributed to their ongoing research efforts.
Guillaume Lajoie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Université de Montréal, Canada CIFAR AI Chair and a Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS) Research Scholar. His research is at the intersection of AI and neuroscience, developing tools to better understand neural network dynamics and computation. His latest work includes the development of architectural inductive biases for information propagation in recurrent networks, as well as the development of algorithms and models for bidirectional brain-machine interface optimization.