To sleep, perchance to learn
Scientists have long known that when people sleep, the brain performs memory magic.
People who sleep for eight hours after learning something new perform better than those who learn the new task during the day and are tested eight hours later without sleeping in between. More recently, scientists have discovered that odors and sounds presented during sleep can influence brain activity to further enhance the learning and memory benefits of sleep.
Now, Sujith Vijayan, an assistant professor in the School Neuroscience, part of the Virginia Tech College of Science, has received a $696,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award to study whether the brain’s work during sleep can also help people learn tasks associated with brain computer interfaces.
Vijayan is one of four College of Science faculty members to recently win the coveted CAREER grant, considered one of the most prestigious awards of its kind, supporting creative junior faculty who are expected to become future academic leaders. Frank Aylward of the Department of Biological Sciences, Satoru Emori of the Department of Physics, and Lauren Childs of the Department of Mathematics are all recent recipients.
Vijayan's research involves brain computer interfaces – often shortened to BCIs – that allow an individual to use their brain activity alone to control an external device like a wheelchair or a cursor on a computer screen. Such interfaces can help people who have been disabled by neuromuscular disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injury, or stroke regain functions so that they cam live more independently.