CRESSMAN LABORATORY

Research


Overview

My research has focused on investigating dynamical structures in driven systems with a specific interest in their role in the functions of the brain. Transient but long-lived correlated dynamics underlie innumerable biological processes, from the lifecycle of an organism to conscious thought and social behavior. Transient dynamical structures are also the hallmark of a number of natural phenomena including tornados, hurricanes, gyres, and von Karman vortex streets, simple fluid systems that can support coherent structures.

My interest in the dynamics that support human thought began when I was an undergraduate studying physics and philosophy. It seemed to me that a foundation in fundamental physics was essential to understanding cognitive function on a most basic level To this end I completed my doctoral work in the investigation of non-equilibrium fluid systems and continued my studies as a postdoctoral researcher at George Mason University and the Pennsylvania State University investigating the dynamics of seizures both experimentally and computationally. My transition to the study of neuroscience was facilitated by a National Institutes of Health F32 fellowship that supported my work to investigate the role of ionic dynamics in seizures.

This is an exciting time to study neuroscience. Advances in neuroimaging allow us to probe the working of the brain on a spatiotemporal scale previously inconceivable. In addition, significant computational advancements make it possible to model complex human behavior. Without understanding the dynamics that propagate through these systems we can grasp little more than the race track on which the race is run. A better understanding of the physics that underlies neuronal computation will improve both our interpretation of experimental findings as well as inform models that replicate the dynamic motifs of complex computation and thought.

In a broader context, my current work combines components of my graduate and postgraduate studies and is designed to answer the following specific questions.

  1. What are the roles of spatiotemporal structures in the neuronal function?
  2. How do gradients and flows give rise to and constrain spatiotemporal structures in driven systems in general?
  3. Why do these structures tend to be long-lived but transient?
  4. What theory accurately describes the statistics of non-equilibrium fluctuations?
  5. How can we describe dynamic structures in terms of energy, entropy and information?

In order to answer these questions I have developed a number of experimental studies including in vitro analysis of electrochemical activity in brain slices from rat, as well as a simple fluid system in the form of an electro-convecting liquid crystal (ELC). Here I present a sample of my work illustrating some of the most important features of the non-equilibrium physics I study. References in square brackets correspond to publications listed in my curriculum vitae. Rather than list my activities chronologically, I give a brief overview of dynamical structures and non-equilibrium physics in the context of the fluid experiments. I then go on to discuss my work in neuronal systems. I include a short statement on probe development before concluding with future plans and a brief discussion.

Dynamic Coherent Modes

Power Fluctuations

Energy Flow & Neuronal Systems

Epilepsy

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