University of Minnesota
Neuroengineering Minor

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What is Neuroengineering?

Bridging engineering and neuroscience, neuroengineering is an emerging field that translates research discoveries into neuro-technologies that provide new and powerful tools for basic and clinical neuroscience research and lead to enhanced patient care. Exploration of neural systems has long focused on understanding how neural systems work at the molecular, cellular, network and system levels. Engineering methodologies have always played an important role in the study of neural systems, providing tools needed to detect, process and model neural signals. Recently, tremendous progress has been made in the field of neuroengineering, both in the application of engineering concepts and methodologies to the study of neural systems, and in interfacing neural systems with external devices for restoration of lost neural function. The rapid progress and tremendous translational potential of neuroengineering has been well recognized in the past decade. For example, neural interface technologies, including systems that electrically pace brain activity to restore function or that use brain activity to diagnose disease or control a computer, have tremendous potential to improve quality of life. However, innovation of these systems continues to be inefficient and gradual because we still lack a fundamental understanding of the neuroscience behind brain-device interactions.

Program Rationale

With the recent explosion of neurotechnology for basic science research and healthcare, the brain has become a primary component of bi-directional systems that can directly interact with the outside world. For example, brain-computer interfaces now enable people to use their own brain activity to send e-mails without the need for a keyboard. Children with dystonia who once were unable to tie their shoes are now able to lead normal lives because of implantable devices that electrically pace a small region of their brain. And, individuals with auditory or visual disabilities are now able to hear and see with synthetic systems that transduce sensory stimuli into brain activity.

These neural interface technologies have tremendous potential to increase productivity and improve quality of life, but innovation and refinement of these systems is inefficient and gradual because we lack a fundamental understanding of the neuroscience behind brain-device interactions. Faculty at the University of Minnesota are on the forefront of these challenges. The Neuroengineering Minor program is motivated by the notion that future breakthroughs in this rapidly-growing area of research will be made by engineers who understand the fundamental issues and principles of neuroscience, and by neuroscientists who are truly competent in engineering concepts and tools. The minor trains doctoral students to develop the skills to revolutionize technologies for interfacing with the brain and to advance our understanding of the neuroscience processes that arise when we interface with and modulate the brain.