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Grad students to present research March 1

Two graduate students will present their research at the Beckman Institute Graduate Student Seminar on Wednesday, March 1: Jilai Cui, The Neuroscience Program; and Sohaila Aboutaleb, mechanical science and engineering.
Published on Feb. 20, 2023

Two graduate students will present their research at the Beckman Institute Graduate Student Seminar on Wednesday, March 1: Jilai Cui, The Neuroscience Program; and Sohaila Aboutaleb, mechanical science and engineering.

The hybrid seminar will take place in 1005 Beckman and on Zoom. Lunch will be provided to in-person attendees. 

Register in advance to attend.

Modeling octopus arm-sucker sensory-motor coordination

Jilai CuiJilai CuiOctopus arms and suckers are notable for flexibility and acting semi-independently of the central brain. While neuronal mechanisms for arm-sucker coordination are yet poorly understood, we are modeling testable sensory-motor networks based on behavioral observations. We present a model that simulates the sensory-motor network of the arm by connecting several segments (joints) in tandem. Each joint mimics the brachial ganglia and suckers of the arms and incorporates a three-layered neural network. Movement among joints and arms are coordinated by lateral inhibition and hierarchical control. This preliminary model can direct the arm to search for an odor stimulus source up the concentration gradient, an ability useful in real-world foraging scenarios where the target’s location is hidden from sight. The model’s second function is generation of sensory maps and to estimate both direction and distance of the stimulus source. This simple working model is both testable and modifiable based on experimental data. It shows how complex behaviors of octopuses’ arms can be derived from simple peripheral neural interactions without moment-to-moment direct input from the CNS.

Jilai Cui is a graduate student in the Neuroscience Program. He has a deep passion for understanding the complexities of the nervous system and how it functions, and especially interested in modeling invertebrate nervous system. He completed his undergraduate studies in Biological Sciences at Shanghai Tech University in Shanghai, China, where he engaged in study in human protein tyrosine phosphatases. He then decided to pursue his interest in computational neuroscience by joining University of Illinois for his graduate studies. He has since been involved in the CyberOctopus project, which aims to reconstruct an octopus’s mind in the computer. He has been doing research on electrophysiological recording and computational modeling of the octopus as well as other marine invertebrates. He is excited to share his knowledge and findings with others in the scientific community and looks forward to engaging in discussion and collaboration during the talk.

Neural networks for image segmentation of bone scaffolds

Sohaila AboutalebSohaila AboutalebBone scaffolds are structures that are implanted in critically large bone defects/injuries to provide mechanical support and provide space for bone to grow. We assess the performance of a scaffold by measuring the amount of bone growth in its macro pores. This is done by micro CT scanning the scaffolds and measuring the amount of bone as a fraction of the space that it could grow in. It is important to accurately segment the micro CT scans of bone scaffolds to have a representative measure of the performance of each scaffold. Since manual segmentation is slow and labor intensive, and traditional methods are inaccurate, a neural network is trained to automatically segment the micro CT images. This work discusses the development of ground truths, the tuning of the neural network, and the resulting output of this segmentation technique.

Sohaila Aboutaleb is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering under the supervision of Professor Amy Wagoner Johnson. Her work revolves around designing bone scaffolds and analyzing the effect of geometric and biological factors on bone growth in the scaffolds. In addition to the 2022 Beckman Institute Graduate Student Fellowship, she has also received the MechSE distinguished fellowship. In her free time, Sohaila bakes, plays tae kwon do, and takes care of her plants.

Learn more about Beckman's Graduate Student Seminar Series.

Read Q&As with student researchers on Beckman's Student Researcher Spotlight page

In this article

  • Sohaila Aboutaleb Aboutaleb
    Sohaila Aboutaleb Aboutaleb's directory photo.

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