A Collection of Articles


35 Innovators Under 35


The frontiers of science provide ample space to explore innovation. Meet nine of the pioneers.

` Maryam Shanechi, 33

Using control theory to build better interfaces to the brain.

  • by Antonio Regalado
  • “I was born in Iran. My family immigrated to Canada when I was 16. My parents wanted a better education for me, my brother, and sister. I started out working on information theory, coding theory, and wireless communication. But I wanted to more directly impact people in my research. When I was looking for a PhD topic, I came across neuroscience, and I realized that the same principle could be used to treat brain disorders. 

    “So I moved from decoding wireless signals to decoding brain signals. I develop brain-machine interfaces that record the activity of neurons while someone plans a movement. This could one day allow disabled patients to move just by thinking about it. 

    “My work takes a lot of insight from control theory. Say you reach for a glass of wateryour brain wants that to happen in a certain time frame, and it’s getting visual feedback, and you can adjust the speed. The brain acts as a ‘feedback controller,’ and I have built models for how that works. I also work on brain-machine interfaces for anesthesia. We decode the level of brain activity and adjust the anesthetic accordingly.

    “I started as a professor at Cornell University and moved to the University of Southern California in July. As part of the Obama BRAIN initiative, I’m involved in a project to revolutionize treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders, such as PTSD and depression. We will create a brain-machine interface to decode the neuropsychiatric state of the brain, and decide on a set of electrical stimulation patterns to alleviate the symptoms in real time. This would be an automatic controllera closed-loop system. And I will build that. 

    “We know nothing about the signatures of neuropsychiatric disorders in the brain. We need to discover those. I am really excited, because there is so much we don’t know.” 

    —as told to Antonio Regalado

    Watch this Innovator at EmTech 2014
    Meet the Innovators Under 35