Finding your way to a better brain

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Above: Paul setting up the LiDAR to image Austin Hall. Below: A human field of vision represented as a solid 3D object, as created by LiDAR

If someone dropped you in a new city and took away your smart phone, could you find your way to the nearest coffee shop? What if there was construction on your usual route to work and your phone battery was dead? Could you navigate a detour for yourself? The crop of students now entering college have lived all of their young adult lives constantly connected to the internet and all of the information contained within it. This means they have never had to remember any information, phone numbers, addresses, or directions for themselves. Technology has made our lives easier and more efficient in so many ways and turn-by-turn directions is most definitely near the top of that list of improvements. filledYet, one rarely discussed aspect of these technological advances is the impact our phones and the internet may be having on our brains. Paul Platosh, and other researchers, have taken notice and are working to understand the relationship between technology and our brains.

Working in Seunghae Lee‘s lab in the department of Human Environment and Design, Paul hopes to improve our understanding of how the brain responds to different navigational stimuli, but with a unique twist. Paul’s background is in design, meaning he has a rather unusual perspective on this research compared to most neuroscientists and psychologists. In a previous life, Paul worked to redesign the containers used at a grocery store and was even a Buckminster Fuller award finalist for this work. Now he hopes to bring some scientific rigor to the field of design and potentially improve human health using the world around us. To do this, Paul is combining his expertise in design, mapping technology from GIS, and psychology-based study methods.

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An image of Paul generated by LiDAR

The basic premise of Paul’s research is simple. Give a college student some directions to follow via smart phone versus a head-up display and finally ask the student to re-draw the directions in as much detail as possible. The idea here is the head-up display will lead to more interaction with the real world environment and stimulate parts of the brain that are important to wayfinding. As it turns out, these same parts of the brain tend to accumulate protein aggregates in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Building on this link, Paul hopes to use the world around us, and how we interact with it, to improve the outcomes of the many people suffering from diseases of the brain.

To hear more about Paul’s journey from studio art to the hippocampus, tune in Sunday, May 15th at 7pm PST on 88.7 KBVR.

 

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