Introducing BrainBox Initiative Conference speaker Dr James Bonaiuto

PhD Thesis:
Modeling the Mirror System in Action Observation and Execution

Institution of study:
University of Southern California

Year obtained:

Current institution:
French National Centre for Scientific Research

Current Research Area/Activity:
Action preparation and selection, laminar-resolved analysis of cortical activity using high precision magnetoencephalography (MEG).

Tell us about your research and why you chose this particular area:
As an undergraduate I was a computer science major and got interested in artificial intelligence. In search of free food, I went to a talk by Steve Platek about how the brain creates the mind and decided that I should study computational neuroscience using the brain as a proof of concept. I then read some papers by Michael Arbib about the primacy of action in the evolution of brain and did my PhD with him at USC working on computational models of motor planning and decision making. One recurring issue with computational modeling is finding quality data to build and test models with, so I decided that I’d like to learn to combine experimentation and modeling. I found an opportunity to do that with Sven Bestmann at UCL using neurostimulation to causally test computational models of decision making. Since then I’ve tried to close the loop using neurostimulation and MEG/EEG to test computational models of action preparation and decision making.

What inspired you to enter the BrainBox Initiative Speaker programme?
It’s rare to have a conference focused on early-career researchers and I think its important to prepare them for their future career, but also to hear about the nitty gritty of current research projects from the people who are ‘in the trenches’. 

What equipment do you currently use?
Recently I’ve used a NeuroConn multi-channel stimulator for tDCS, currently I am using a CTF-275 channel MEG scanner.

What are some current exciting areas of brain stimulation research?
I’m very excited by recent work on simultaneous tES and MEG both to improve the spatial and temporal specificity of tES, but also to causally test theories of the functional role of oscillatory brain activity in different frequency bands.

Do you have any advice for other early career researchers?
Interview potential advisors – ask them what their plan is for your career and what have their previous PhD students and post-docs gone on to do. Try to determine how much they will promote you and your work.

What do enjoy when you’re not in the lab?
Reading science fiction, growing chillies, snowboarding and surfing, arguing about politics, tattoos.

Dr James Bonaiuto will be speaking at the BrainBox Initiative Conference on the 27-28 September at the Wellcome Collection, London.