Dr. Woosung Kim, McDonnell Scholar cohort of 2006, will begin his new journey in Santa Clara, Ca. as a research scientist for the world’s largest and highest valued semiconductor chipmaker, Intel Corporation. Woosung learned of his new position opportunity recently and is very excited to begin his new life in California.
Woosung is one of the McDonnell Academy’s first scholars and began his PhD studies at Washington University in St. Louis in 2006, along with the first cohort of students the Academy accepted. After two years of full engagement in neuroscience, circumstances forced him to switch his studies to photonics, basically having to start his PhD studies from scratch. With his new focus in 2009, Woosung settled into his second research project, and dedicated his efforts to this new venture. After meeting with an Intel spokesperson visiting the university as a guest lecturer in 2010, Woosung entered the contact information provided into his already long list of networks.
In 2012, he was searching for opportunities. Not remembering meeting the contact, his resume was accepted by the same Intel spokesperson that had visited two years earlier, and Woosung was offered a coveted one-year internship.
After his first week at Intel, he realized that his knowledge and research was not as extensive as he had thought. However, after three months of humbled dedication and focus, he was able to settle into his new position and began making great strides toward the tech issue he had been assigned to fix. He was able to present his findings to his managers, and although most did not find his research plausible, he moved forward with his presentation and was able to prove his findings accurate. He was successful in developing and solving several key issues, and was promoted to an exclusive task force, where he worked with a small team for further development. At the end of his internship, he was advised to finish is degree and keep in touch with managers.
Woosung credits the McDonnell Academy for the opportunity to pursue his degree and develop as a well-rounded student, and now employee. He commented on one of the trips his cohorts took to Chicago: “I was sitting next to a retired CEO during an event with the McDonnell Academy, and he gave me the best advice: ‘Remember three things, 1. Be honest, 2. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, 3. Don’t make that mistake again.’ It was “big picture” advice, and I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with someone who had so much wisdom.”
Woosung received his PhD degree and began his new and exciting position with Intel in July 2013.
The Brain, Our Next Generation Support Device
Do you believe that you can keep critical memories for your entire life? Are you sure that you are free from neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease? We all wish to retain and expand our mental abilities, and this has made the brain sciences of such great interest today.
The capacities and limitations of the brain are now at the forefront of scientific inquiry just as computers were a few decades ago. Computers and computerized devices have come to take on many new roles. However, as logical devices that are external to our bodies computers are limited. Among other things, they cannot—at least yet—interpret emotion. Our brain is also capable of remarkable logical analysis and has a biological interface that somehow analyzes emotion. Contemporary studies in brain science can shed light on how to maintain, and perhaps even expand our functionality.
Although there are concerns about computerized society, the fact is that we have benefited by it immensely and have spent a great deal of our time using computers voluntarily rather than at what otherwise might be boring and repetitive jobs. The concern over losing essential features of our nature is less convincing today after being discussed for at least a century. In today’s world people live in the IT stream rather than the life of a caveman. It turns out that we want computers to address all sorts of problems facing us in the future.
With this as background, consider the brain computer interface (BCI), which may be the next frontier of computer “supportive devices.” The study of BCI examines the interface between an external device and our brain. In general, there are two applications of BCI. First, BCI can be used to actually alter brain functioning. A research group at the University of Washington in Seattle imposed long-term brain plasticity by implanting a neurochip that bypasses one area’s functionality and links to another. A few weeks after the implant, the animal demonstrated new forms of behavior.
How is this possible? Synaptic plasticity is the key factor in explaining this phenomenon. The idea that neurons that “fire together, wire together” is the main theme of the Hebbian rule named after psychologist Donald O. Hebb. The Hebbian rule predicts that after externally introducing intra-cortical micro-stimulation which is synchronized with pre-synaptic action potentials, neuronal networks will strengthen existing connectivity with post-synaptic neurons. The newly wired connection substitutes a targeted functionality for an original pattern. In short, brain plasticity gives an externally introduced electrical device the potential to enhance our ability on demand or fix a malfunctioning brain area.
Studies of BCI may also make it possible to communicate with external limb devices by decoding brain signals. In one laboratory patients who could not control their limbs showed signs of managing to move robotic arms or legs through thought or brain commands. Recordings of electrical signals from brain such as electroencephalograms and electrocorticograms were analyzed with well-established stochastic signal processing methods.
Under the optimum decision theory, the analyzer can communicate with an external device. It is also possible that emotion, memory, attention, and cognitive functions can be expanded. These two basic results from contemporary research have opened the possibility that the brain will be our next generation supportive device.
As I noted at the beginning, BCI will lead to a host of new technical, social, and biological concerns, and these will have to be the object of serious discussion. Besides these concerns, it is obvious that we are still far from being able to build stable BCI systems. However, scientific research and the practical applications that follow promise to expand at an even quicker pace. Despite the concerns that are sometimes raised, we will benefit from the contemporary study of the brain, and then we will figure out positive outcomes rather than negative effects as occurred during the industrial revolution. Ultimately, BCI will have a critical impact on the future of human beings.