MATC Mathematics Club
Lecture #53

Madison Area Technical College
Madison, Wisconsin


Spring 2006 Presentation #53 (Friday May 5, 2006)
by Amir Assadi

"Is this a face or a house? Mathematical Exploration of Brain and How It Recognizes Faces"

Abstract: Look around, and you can distinguish faces more easily than other objects, even in dim light or scenes crowded with many objects. Why? I will discuss a few highlights of the research done on trying to answer this question by actual experiments that collect brain waves when people are briefly shown photos of faces or other objects, like houses. It turns out that the many pieces of information that could help us discover the brain mechanisms for recognizing faces are deeply buried in such data. How can we extract useful pieces of information from all other brain wave activities that are unrelated? The brain activity generates waves for every spike by a brain cell, and there are trillions of these spikes per second!! For example the brain processes that come from keeping hear beats, or running administration of the body chores, or hearing or feeling the pressure of the clothing on our bodies, ... all end up being measured one way or another with the same instrument that the brain researcher tries to tease out when the person is only seeing objects and faces. I will try to share with you in nontechnical terms a few mathematical ideas and techniques that help brain researchers answer questions like brain's mechanisms to recognize faces and other objects. The background for this lecture is an interest in applications of mathematics and scientific curiosity!

Biography:  Amir H. Assadi received his undergraduate (UC Berkely) and graduate education (Princeton) in mathematics, and continued with post doctoral research at The Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton). He has served as a faculty member at University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin, where he is now professor of mathematics. He was also an affiliate professor of UW medical physics, and is currently an affiliate professor of The Genome Center of Wisconsin. Amir’s fascination with mysteries of brain function had already started in high school and has continued since. In 1996, a 4-week intensive introductory course in computational analysis brain data at the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole) jump-started Dr. Assadi’s research initiative in neuroscience. Despite a full-time teaching load and administrative duties as a mathematics professor, Dr. Assadi has been continually learning bit-by-bit from texts and review articles in neuroscience. Fortunately, his prior experience in scientific computation, computer graphics and visualization of geometric structures proved useful in his study of the human visual system. His research interests at present are in applications of mathematics to biological problems, especially the type that arise in study of intelligent biological systems, from molecular computations in cells to interactions among members of a community of brains (some times called education!)




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