John Long, Ph.D.New York University
John Long received a B.A. in neurobiology with honors from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley in 2011. His dissertation work was conducted within the Brain-Machine Interface Systems Laboratory of Dr. Jose Carmena, and it was there within the engineering department that he honed his skills in real-time system design, image processing, and camera geometry. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. György Buzsáki at the New York University Langone Medical Center. Long’s interests surround understanding how the machinery of the brain generates the repertoire of mammalian behavior, and how the brain integrates the input of its senses into predictive models of its environment. He is as interested in understanding the machinery of the brain as he is in building robotic systems capable of mimicking biological functions. His current work in behavioral neuroscience focuses upon the relationship between memory formation, navigation and immediate sensory experience. He leverages his expertise in modern multiple camera photogrammetry to build 3-D models of his neurophysiological subjects. By combining modern sensor technologies with advances in machine learning, he endeavors to contribute to the next stage in the scientific study of behavior by developing automated systems for classifying behaviors and contributing to the open-source software community.
“The behavioral correlates of spatial memory formation in hippocampal dCA1”
Any animal must be able to navigate through its surroundings. Such navigation requires the animal to create a map of the environment and to localize itself in that map. But how do the brains of animals create maps of space? And how do they decide where they are in that map? Years of research have pointed to an area of the brain called the hippocampus. When the hippocampus is destroyed, organisms lose the ability to form spatial memories and to navigate through space. It’s known that in one region of the hippocampus, neurons termed “place cells” are active only when the animal is in a certain region of space. Such place cells, then, constitute a spatial navigation system that builds maps and situates the animal within these maps. However, this begs the question of how the animal reads out these maps. The central problem our research addresses is how the hippocampus associates perception with action in a common spatial frame. Working in rats, we have created a sophisticated video camera system that can measure the rat’s body in 3D while it is engaged in a foraging task. We will use these images to create a computer model of the rat’s body. Then, by recording the activity of many neurons in the rat’s hippocampus while it navigates through its surroundings, we can investigate whether place cells are simply active in certain regions of space, or if the sensory experience and behaviors of the rat are also encoded in the activity of these neurons. Our work will have broad implications for how we think about place cells, revising notions of them as components of a simple internal navigation system, but as dynamic entities that organize perceptions and actions within space.