Interview: Award-winning neuroscientist expects more collaboration with China

Source: Xinhua| 2018-10-10 18:08:04|Editor: xuxin
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by Tan Jingjing

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- Genius Grant winner Neuroscientist Doris Tsao from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) told Xinhua on Tuesday that she expects to cooperate more with Chinese research institutes and scientists in studying the neural mechanism for face recognition.

Tsao was awarded the 2018 Genius Grant, known as the MacArthur Fellowship, for her creativity and talent in neuroscience.

The Caltech visual neuroscientist uses brain imaging technology, electrical recording techniques and mathematical modeling in identifying how the brain turns millions of electrical impulses into objects we recognize.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Tsao said her lab is now in collaboration with Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, China.

She hopes winning the award would draw more attention to her research and encourage more Chinese scientists to join in.

"I study how we see - how the brain sees - and this is important because it's a way of understanding how the brain works," said Tsao, who was born in China and moved to the state of Maryland in the United States at the age of 4 with her parents.

Tsao has explored several aspects of visual processing, including the perception of depth and color. But her most notable line of research seeks to uncover the fundamental neural principles that underline one of the brain's most highly specialized and socially important tasks: recognizing a face.

In 2017, Tsao and her team discovered the neural mechanism for face recognition. Even though an infinite number of different possible faces exist, they found that the brain needs only about 200 neurons to uniquely encode any face, with each neuron encoding a specific dimension of facial variability.

Tsao is widely recognized for pioneering the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging to target electrodes for studying visual processing in monkeys.

"We study non-human primates because they see just like us," Tsao said.

Tsao, also director of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience, said her lab is taking a new direction right now, venturing into new parts of the brain and a new species.

One of the two new tasks is to understand how the brain recognizes other objects besides human faces. The other is to identify how the brain processes images in its imagination. The team will work on a new species of tree shrew, Tsao told Xinhua.

Tsao studied biology and mathematics at Caltech as an undergraduate and received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard in 2002.