Research Highlight by Kurtis Chien: Integrative Cognitive Neuroscience Lab

Cassie Collins is a Cognitive and Brain Science major at the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences. She works at the Integrative Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, and researched through the Summer Scholars program in the summer of 2017.

Hello Cassie, could you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your major? What are your extracurricular interests?

Hello! I am a senior majoring in Cognitive and Brain Science. As an individual with a wide variety of academic interests, I chose to study Cognitive and Brain Science at Tufts because it offered me the flexibility to take classes in subjects ranging from child development to abnormal psychology. In terms of extracurricular interests, I love to hike, play soccer, travel, and read. Additionally, I work as a tutor for kids with reading disabilities at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes in Arlington.


Did you get involved in research before the Summer Scholars program? How did you decide to do research over the summer?

I got involved in research my sophomore year when Professor Elizabeth Race came to Tufts and founded the Integrative Cognitive Neuroscience Lab (ICoN). The ICoN lab focuses on studying the neural basis of memory and attention. I decided to participate in the Summer Scholars program last summer to get a jump start on data collection for the thesis I am working on this year.


You presented a project titled “Identifying an Internal Biomarker of Inattention” at the end of the Summer Scholars program. Could you tell me what what kind of research you conducted? What did you learn?

For my thesis I was interested in studying if you can predict based on looking at people’s brainwaves at rest how well they will perform on a task measuring memory and attention. In order to measure people’s brainwaves, I used electroencephalogram (EEG) imaging technology. Administering EEG involves placing electrodes on the scalp to pick up on the electrical activity that occurs when neurons fire in the brain. So this summer I used EEG to measure 32 participant’s brainwaves at rest and then while they completed a face-memory task. Then I analyzed their resting state data to see if you could correlate it with their task performance.

Brainwaves can be analyzed at different frequencies. I decided to focus on the alpha-band, which ranges from 8-12Hz in frequency. I learned that identifying where an individual’s alpha power peaks within that range (i.e. whether its closer to the 8Hz or the 12Hz end of the spectrum) at rest can predict their later task level of inattention. This is interesting because if you can predict inattention, then the hope is that you can prevent it. At this point, the ICoN lab has started work on creating a Brain Computer Interface (i.e. an earpiece that you wear) that can provide neurofeedback (i.e. a tone playing) to refocus one’s attention when they begin to “zone out”. The development of this BCI could help people of all professions, ranging from students studying for exams to soldiers going into life-or-death vigilance situations.


Do you have any plans for research after graduation? Any continuation of your current research?

After graduating in May, I would like to get a few years of biotech industry experience. Ultimately, I would like to participate in a dual JD-PhD program and do work in the emerging field of Neurolaw, specifically looking at using science to inform educational policy.