The acts of perceiving, thinking, doing or feeling are marked by complex patterns of electrical activity in the brain. Dysfunction in neuronal activity is observed in many diseases and conditions, including epilepsy, dyslexia and Down syndrome. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a leading edge technology that images functional brain activity in the human cerebral cortex. The MEG installed in the Vancouver/Burnaby (V/B) MEG laboratory contains an array of 151 sensors configured to record minute magnetic fields that are generated when neurons depolarize in the brain. MEG is used to study neural patterns and pathways using human subjects. However, creating a phantom model to artificially activate sequences of simulated neurons in realistic patterns could help researchers explore dynamic neural networks in more detail. Using a phantom model would allow for more complex studies of brain activity and would also allow researchers to test what happens when pathways are “virtually” altered or severed. Using neuroscience, physics and engineering, Teresa Cheung is developing a phantom model of the cerebral cortex. She will use a series of magnetic dipoles to simulate the brain’s magnetic fields and write the software to control the activation of these fields. By creating a model that accurately simulates brain activity in healthy and dysfunctional states, Cheung’s research will help researchers better understand the complex workings of the brain.
As normal hearing and sighted children learn to read, they gain knowledge of associations between letters or words and their related sounds. Particular brain regions and processes are implicated in reading—reflected by measurable changes in brain activity—which develop as children progressively gain reading ability. By recording the magnetic fields produced by the brain, Dr. Anthony Herdman is identifying the changes that occur in brain activities when children begin to recognize letters. He is also investigating what happens in children’s brains when they combine sight and sound in order to learn letter-sound and word-sound pairs. His goal is to gain a better understanding of the changes in cerebral activity within in the developing brain over the course reading acquisition.