Erkin Seker, PhD
Erkin Seker, PhD

New Course at UC Davis: Introduction to Neuroengineering

By Gabriela Lee and Noah A Pflueger-Peters

Neuroengineering is an emerging field where engineering, medicine and neuroscience come together to engineer innovative tools to study the operation of the central and peripheral nervous systems and develop impactful solutions to treat their pathologies. Neuroengineers work across disciplines in highly-collaborative research projects to develop technologies such as prosthetics, brain-computer interfaces, deep brain stimulation and post-neural injury rehabilitation tools.

To develop tomorrow’s solutions for patients with neurological disorders, today’s students must learn about key research areas and tools in neuroengineering, and conduct interdisciplinary research. To address these needs and interest from the students, faculty from the UC Davis Center for Neuroengineering & Medicine developed a new “Introduction to Neuroengineering” course, taught for the first time during the spring 2021 quarter.

The course was open to graduate students from existing graduate groups or programs, as well as advanced undergraduate students (with instructor approval). A total of 12 graduate students and 4 undergraduate students enrolled, and 4 others audited the course. Erkin Şeker, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, led and coordinated the team-taught interdisciplinary course.

Each weekly two-hour lecture, complemented with practical assignments, was taught by different instructors from eight departments across UC Davis in the College of Engineering, College of Biological Sciences and the School of Medicine and focused on a different neuroengineering topic. Over the ten-week quarter, students learned about the role of models in studying the nervous systems, neuroscience and computational tools, prosthetics and brain-machine interfaces, human performance and rehabilitation, cognitive neuroengineering, miniaturization technology and neuroethics.

To deepen their understanding of the course material, students were given National Institute of Health (NIH)-style proposal writing exercises. These exercises taught them the essential skill of deconstructing an idea into achievable and measurable research tasks, which should transform the way they think about conducting research and/or crafting career objectives. The projects reflected the students’ level of disciplinary knowledge and technical skills, and the student peer review process drove them to comprehend an unfamiliar scientific topic well enough to provide academically-sound criticism. These proposals also gave students a working draft for potential fellowship applications and/or student research projects.  

By the end of the quarter, the class proved to be a success. Inventory-style assessments suggested that students significantly increased their knowledge of neuroengineering by taking the course, and the faculty now plan to offer it on an annual basis and include it in the curriculum for a prospective Designated Emphasis in Neuroengineering program. It also showed the effectiveness of a team-teaching model for teaching new graduate courses in other emerging fields.

The faculty involved in teaching the course are listed below:

  1. Jochen Ditterich (Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior)
  2. Audrey Fan (Biomedical Engineering)
  3. Wil Joiner (Neurology and Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior)
  4. Sanjay Joshi (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)
  5. Zhaodan Kong (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)
  6. Karen Moxon (Biomedical Engineering)
  7. Carolynn Patten (Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation)
  8. Ignacio Saez (Neurological Surgery)
  9. Jonathon Schofield (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)
  10. Erkin Şeker (Electrical and Computer Engineering) – Instructor of Record
  11. Mitch Sutter (Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior)
  12. Lin Tian (Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine)
  13. Weijian Yang (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  14. Mark Yarborough (Bioethics)

"Intro to Neuroengineering" will be offered in the Winter quarter during the academic year 2021-2022. 

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