Undergraduate research

APL researchers, Hopkins undergrads team up for brain mapping project

CIRCUIT summer internship program trains students in neuroanatomy for project to improve machine learning

Video: JHU Applied Physics Laboratory

Through a summer partnership with researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, 23 Johns Hopkins undergrads helped map the human brain to nanoscale resolution for a pilot program aimed at reverse-engineering the brain to improve machine learning.

"The more brains you have around a table, the better answer you are going to get..."
Hannah Cowley
CIRCUIT intern

CIRCUIT—short for Connectomics Institute for Reconstructing Cortex: Understanding Intelligence Together—is a 10-week internship program for students from a variety of disciplines—including biomedical engineering, computer science, and neuroscience—who receive intensive training and mentor support during their research project.

Feilim Mac Gabhann, director of the Hopkins Office of Undergraduate Research, praised the innovative program.

"The CIRCUIT program is an example of the best type of experiential learning," he said. "The students not only train in new techniques but also apply their knowledge from JHU classes to build new open-source tools and create new knowledge. The students lead their own research projects in a team-based environment with multiple research mentors. I have no doubt that this type of program makes a huge impact on the career trajectories of these students, and in checking in with several of the students from the program, they have returned to campus energized by the experience."

Students formed small teams that worked as part of a larger one in an effort to foster collaboration and teamwork. They helped proofread brain maps generated through the Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks, or MICrONS, program, which seeks to reverse engineer the algorithms of the brain to revolutionize machine learning.

"The more brains you have around a table, the better answer you are going to get; that was something I learned as part of CIRCUIT," said Hannah Cowley, a senior cognitive science major.

"Not only did I have the opportunity to mesh two fields I love—biology and neuroscience—I also learned the power of a group and what an impact it can have on science," said Orlando Martinez, a sophomore neuroscience major.

CIRCUIT students worked out of APL's Intelligent Systems Center beginning in May and ending in July. Staff from the Johns Hopkins Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Center for Student Success supported the students in pursuing the opportunity to intern at APL.

"Participation in CIRCUIT was an amazing and confidence-building experience for our students," said Dean Ferguson, associate dean at the Center for Student Success. "The students developed competencies in areas they never thought possible."