Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

New collaborative research center launched to gain insights into human behavior

In collaboration with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), Tufts University inaugurated the new Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences (CABCS) in April. Located in the School of Engineering labs at 200 Boston Ave., the center is operated by researchers hailing from both organizations who hope to gain a better understanding of the impacts of demanding environments on people.

With a team consisting of Scientific Manager Dr. Tad Brunye and Program Managers Dr. Heather Urry, an associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Matthias Scheutz, a professor of computer science, CABCS will embrace an interdisciplinary approach to complex problems that extend across different domains of science and engineering.

“The Center…[is] bringing together experts from multiple scientific and engineering disciplines in academia and government to solve real-world challenges in the brain and cognitive sciences,” Brunye said.

Brunye emphasized that the joint commitment to addressing similar issues, which brought Tufts and NSRDEC together, sets the Center apart from existing research labs affiliated with Tufts.

“Traditionally, government organizations fund scientific endeavors but do not necessarily actively engage in collaborative research,” he said. “The Center, however, takes a uniquely collaborative approach in this regard, establishing shared goals and forging strong active collaborations between Tufts faculty and civilian scientists from the Army laboratories.”

The idea to develop this collaborative research center was first formulated three years ago, when Co-Directors Professor of Psychology Dr. Holly Taylor and Dr. Caroline Mahoney from the U.S. Army NSRDEC sought to find a way to enrich the existing research relationship between their respective institutions, according to Brunye. Taylor leads the Spatial Cognition Laboratory within the Psychology department, while Mahoney, who received her Ph.D. from Tufts, directs the Cognitive Science team at the U.S. Army NSRDEC.

Taylor noted that CABCS came to fruition due to the support and assistance they received from beyond the Psychology department.

“The momentum to make the Center a reality came when Dean Linda Abriola, former dean of Tufts School of Engineering, recognized the Center as an opportunity to truly support interdisciplinary, cross-school collaboration,” Taylor said.

CABCS also includes a Research Advisory Committee (RAC), which is comprised of representatives from Tufts and NSRDEC, as well as individuals from outside the two institutions. The role of the RAC is to scrutinize and provide feedback on initial program reviews, annual reviews and proposals for continuation. Furthermore, the Center’s specific objectives are meant to be supported and advanced by RAC members, several of whom are directly involved in some of CABCS’ projects.

This past spring through May 15, the nascent Center began requesting research proposals. It ultimately received nine applications for consideration from faculty in the Schools of Medicine, Nutrition, Engineering and Arts and Sciences. Brunye described the proposals as auspicious, stating that their authors were all invited to revise and resubmit their ideas to compete for possible funding.

The proposals for 2015 were to fall within the bounds of one of four fixed topics: “understanding humans and supporting systems,” “monitor, characterize and optimize cognitive and non-cognitive states,” “understanding the immersed ambulatory human” and “pioneering individual to team translation.”

“Topics ranged from delivering low-current electrical stimulation to brain regions responsible for the control of attention and behavior to developing and validating mobile systems for monitoring and interpreting gestural communications,” Brunye said.

The projects that CABCS is currently undertaking boast investigator teams that match the Center’s interdisciplinary  focus:  psychologists are teaming up with engineers and computer scientists to carry out many of the research projects. The projects themselves are varied as well; titles for current projects include “Mobile sign and gesture recognition system for communication in impoverished environments,” “Using neuro-cognitive multi-modal techniques to assess mental workload in real-world language contexts” and “A Pilot Study of the Influence of Different Urban Environments on Mental States.”

Besides innovative interdisciplinary research projects, Brunye emphasized that the Center promises both graduate and undergraduate students valuable work experience with groundbreaking technologies for monitoring neural activity, employing virtual reality to mimic the real world, stimulating cortical activity, tracking eye movements and examining behavioral processes.

“The cutting-edge technologies offered by the Center provide novel, unprecedented opportunities for faculty and students to engage in basic and applied sciences,” Brunye said.

Mahoney agreed and added that the collaboration between the two organizations also provides researchers access to equipment beyond what is available at 200 Boston Ave.

“The new collaborative effort allows Tufts students and faculty the opportunity to use special resources at NSRDEC such as the state of the art environmental chambers,” Mahoney said.

After a few months of developing infrastructure and research capabilities, the Center has begun to collect data, setting its real work into motion, according to Brunye.

“The Center has broadened the impact of Army science and technology investments by supporting innovative faculty research that pushes the boundaries of human performance enhancement,” he said.