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BBI-Kavli Distinguished Speaker Series: Sliman Bensmaia
Tuesday, October 8, 2019
11:00 a.m.
1103 Bioscience Research Building
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Speaker: Dr. Sliman Bensmaia, University of Chicago

Title: Biological and Bionic Hands: Natural Neural Coding and Artificial Perception

Abstract: Our ability to manipulate objects dexterously relies fundamentally on sensory signals originating from the hand. To restore motor function with upper-limb neuroprostheses requires that somatosensory feedback be provided to the tetraplegic patient or amputee. Given the complexity of state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs, and thus the huge state-space they can traverse, it is desirable to minimize the need of the patient to learn associations between events impinging upon the limb and arbitrary sensations. With this in mind, we seek to develop approaches to intuitively convey sensory information that is critical for object manipulation – information about contact location, pressure, and timing – through intracortical microstimulation (ICMS) of primary somatosensory cortex (S1). To this end, we test in psychophysical experiments with monkeys, the sensations evoked by ICMS of S1. Based on these results, we show how to build a biomimetic encoding algorithm for conveying tactile feedback through a cortical interface and show that artificial touch improves the dexterity of brain-controlled bionic hands.

Bio: Sliman Bensmaia is a Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy and in the Committee on Computational Neuroscience. The main objective of his research is to discover how sensory information is encoded in the activity of neurons along the somatosensory neuraxis, spanning the senses of touch and proprioception, in primates. To this end, his team records neuronal responses, measures the elicited percepts, and develops mathematical models to link neuronal representations to behavior. Bensmaia's team is also working towards restoring the sense of touch in bionic hands for amputees, through electrical interfaces with the nerves, or for people with tetraplegia, through electrical interfaces with the central nervous system. A widely published author, Bensmaia has spoken at dozens of invited talks and symposia and holds four patents. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, the American Physiological Society, and the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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