BIRC news

OVPR REP Awarded to BIRC Faculty!

Congratulations to Robert Astur (PI) and Fumiko Hoeft (co-PI) on their Research Excellence Program (REP) award for Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Reduce Problematic Cannabis Use in Undergraduates! Their project will test whether cravings and real-life use of cannabis can be reduced using TMS in UConn undergraduates who are at risk for cannabis use disorder.


Congratulations to BIRC Seed Grant Recipients

In Spring 2020, BIRC awarded four seed grants, including two student/trainee grants. Congratulations to:

  • Postdoc Airey Lau (Psychological Sciences) and faculty supervisors Devin Kearns (Education) and Fumiko Hoeft (Psychological Sciences) for Intervention For Students With Reading And Math Disabilities: The Unique Case Of Comorbidity
  • Graduate student Sahil Luthra (Psychological Sciences) and faculty supervisors Emily Myers (Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences) and James Magnuson (Psychological Sciences) for Hemispheric Organization Underlying Models of Speech Sounds and Talkers
  • Natalie Shook (PI, Nursing) and Fumiko Hoeft (Co-I, Psychological Sciences) for Identifying Neural Pathways Implicated in Older Adults’ Emotional Well-being
  • William Snyder (PIm Linguistics) for Adult processing of late-to-develop syntactic structures: An fMRI study

BIRC provides seed grants to facilitate the future development of external grant applications. Seed grants are provided in the form of a limited number of allocated hours on MRI, EEG and/or TMS equipment at BIRC. These hours are intended to enable investigators to demonstrate feasibility, develop scientific and technical expertise, establish collaborations, and, secondarily, publish in peer-reviewed journals. Seed grants are intended for investigators with experience in the proposed methods, as well as those with little or no experience who have developed a collaborative plan to acquire such experience. New investigators are encouraged to consult with BIRC leadership early in the development of their project. For more information about the program, please visit our seed grant page.

IMPORTANT: BIRC Reopening Procedure Updates

Dear BIRC Users,

With OVPR publishing revised guidelines, we have revised our safety plan using the new template.

Please note that our safety plan does not imply that you should proceed with research. We have users of all needs, and we must obtain approval to serve these needs. Please follow CDC, State and OVPR guidance and proceed with great caution if you do plan to perform research.

1) TMS
TMS is allowed without the 15min time limit we previously imposed. Face shields are required. Researchers must provide their own shields.

2) EEG
EEG is now allowed at BIRC if you proceed with great caution. This site has posted a draft protocol for those wishing to perform EEG research It’s very detailed and helpful. Not all of these procedures are required at BIRC but we recommend you read this if you are wishing to do EEG. Face shields, gloves and gowns/scrubs are required. Cap prep must be done in a separate room.

3) N95 masks
Investigators requiring participants to take off their mask must use a N95 mask. Researchers must provide their own masks.

4) Face shields and standing sneeze guards
A face shield is needed when you will be closer than 6ft to others (e.g. TMS operator, EEG operator, MRI tech). If you are interviewing or testing a participant behaviorally, then you may use a sneeze guard instead. Face shields must be provided by the users. Sneeze guards are provided by BIRC (but please disinfect before and after). We have 16×16” and are getting an 16×30” ones also. Here are some DIY face shields in case you are into DIY stuff.

5) Health screen forms
You may use this to health screening form to screen participants if you would like. Personnel logs will be at the BIRC’s employee side entrance. We will also have thermometers if you would like to use. Just let us know.

6) Your Lab’s Safety Plan
Please get your lab’s plan approved before proceeding to resume work at BIRC. Please note that there are 4 sections in BIRC’s Safety Plan that requires you to elaborate in your Lab’s Safety Plan (search for “Researchers must include”). Once approved, please share with us in case we can provide additional information that may help to keep your team and participants safe. If you need a sample, Fumiko is happy to share a sample.

As always, stay safe and please let us know if you have any questions.

BIRC Staff

BIRC Approved to Reopen – Important Information for Users

Dear BIRC Users,

As you know OVPR has begun the process of phased reopening starting 5/20. We were approved to open yesterday 5/22/2020.
If you are restarting human subjects research at BIRC, please read this email in its entirety.
If you just want to read about recent updates from BIRC, please jump to 4 below.

1) Please read the approved safety plan and share with your RAs, postdocs and students. Even if you are coming into BIRC just to analyze data or pick material up, you must follow this procedure.

Key information:
* Change in the reservation system: This now applies to the data processing room as well.
* Health screening: You must perform on yourself and your research participants 24H before arrival and upon arrival. Please bring your own form.
* Use of employee entrance: The PCSB main entrances will be locked at all times, so you should enter and exit BIRC through the employee entrance, where the log in/log out form can be found.
* Personnel In/Out log: Log all personnel entering BIRC (entry & exit)
* PPE requirements: You and your participants must bring your own masks.
* Change in experimental procedure: We have purchased sneeze shields and these should arrive by the end of this month.
* Cleaning procedure: Please follow our policy.

2) Please note that to use BIRC facilities, you must complete OVPR COVID training (estimated 15min).

3) To conduct research, please get your lab specific safety plan approved by OVPR. BIRC’s plan includes sections where you are required to elaborate in your own plan. We suggest to attach our study plan as an appendix in your submission.
Submission site:;

4) Other news while I have your attention if I still do…
* Clinical MRI will likely resume in early-mid June, thanks for Elisa.
* We have new IBRAiN students joining this fall. Welcome!
* We will be getting a much needed 32ch coil hopefully sometime in the summer.
* There are plans to change the MRI operator training this fall. Stay tuned for Elisa’s announcements.
* BIRC Virtual Speaker-Tag Series has had over 1,000 attendees & 100 institutions joining from around the world so far. Please stay tuned as it continues this summer.
* IBRAiN students publish a paper in Nature! Congrats to Yanina, Emily, Xu, Charles and Monica, and we thank Roeland for his leadership.

Please put safety first when resuming research, and as always, let us know if you have any questions!

BIRC Staff

IBRAiN students publish in Nature

Congratulations to two teams of IBRAiN (IBACS-BIRC Research Assistantships in Neuroimaging) graduate students (Yanina Prystauka, Emily Yearling, and Xu Zhang; Charles Davis and Monica Li) on their contribution to a recent study that examined variability in the analysis of neuroimaging data.

The scientific process involves many steps, such as developing a theory, creating hypotheses, collecting data and analyzing the data. Each of these steps can potentially affect the final conclusions, but to what extent? For example, will different researchers reach different conclusions based on the same data and hypotheses? In the Neuroimaging Analysis, Replication and Prediction Study (NARPS) almost 200 researchers (from fields including neuroscience, psychology, statistics, and economics) teamed up to estimate how variable the findings of brain imaging research are as a result of researchers’ choices about how to analyze the data. The project was spearheaded by Dr. Rotem Botvinik-Nezer (formerly a PhD student at Tel Aviv University and now a postdoctoral researcher at Dartmouth College) and her mentor Dr. Tom Schonberg from Tel Aviv University, along with Dr. Russell Poldrack from Stanford University.

First, a brain imaging dataset was collected from 108 participants performing a monetary decision-making task at the Strauss imaging center at Tel Aviv University. The data were then distributed to 70 analysis teams from across the world. Each team independently analyzed the same data, using their standard analysis methods to test the same 9 pre-defined hypotheses. Each of these hypotheses asked whether activity in a particular part of the brain would change in relation to some aspect of the decisions that the participants made, such as how much money they could win or lose on each decision.

The analysis teams were given up to 3 months to analyze the data, after which they reported both final outcomes for the hypotheses as well as detailed information on the way they analyzed the data and intermediate statistical results. The fraction of analysis teams reporting a statistically significant outcome for each hypothesis varied substantially; for 5 of the hypotheses there was substantial disagreement, with 20-40% of the analysis teams reporting a statistically significant result. The other 4 hypotheses showed more consistency across analysis teams. Interestingly, the underlying statistical brain maps were more similar across analysis teams than expected based on the diverse results from the final hypothesis tests. Hence, even very similar intermediate results led to different outcomes across analysis teams. In addition, a meta-analysis (combining data across experiments, or in this case across analysis teams, in order to analyze them together) that was performed on the analysis teams’ intermediate results showed convergence across teams for most hypotheses. The data did not allow testing of all of the factors related to variability, but some aspects of the analysis procedures were found to lead to more or fewer positive results.

A group of leading economists and behavioral finance experts provided the initial impetus for the project and led the prediction market part of the project: Dr. Juergen Huber, Dr. Michael Kirchler and Dr. Felix Holzmeister from the University of Innsbruck, Dr. Anna Dreber and Dr. Magnus Johannesson from the Stockholm School of Economics and Dr. Colin Camerer from the California Institute of Technology. Prediction markets are a tool that provides participants with real money they can then invest in a market – in this case, a market for the outcomes on each of the nine tested scientific hypotheses. Here, they were used to test whether researchers in the field could predict the results. The prediction markets revealed that researchers in the field were over-optimistic regarding the likelihood of significant results, even if they had analyzed the data themselves.

The researchers emphasize the importance of transparency and data and code sharing, and indeed all analyses in this paper are fully reproducible with openly available computer code and data.

The results of NARPS show for the first time that there is considerable variance when the same complex neuroimaging dataset is analyzed with different analysis pipelines to test the same hypotheses. This should certainly raise awareness for members of the neuroimaging research community, as well as for every other field with complex analysis procedures where researchers have to make many choices about how to analyze the data. However, at the same time, the findings that the underlying statistical maps are relatively consistent across groups, and meta-analyses led to more convergent results, suggest ways to improve research.

Importantly, the fact that almost 200 individuals were each willing to put tens or hundreds of hours into such a critical self-assessment demonstrates the strong dedication of scientists in this field to assessing and improving the quality of data analyses.

The scientific community aims constantly to gain knowledge about human behavior and the physical world. Studying such complex processes frequently requires complex methods, big data and complex analyses. The variability in outcomes demonstrated in this study is an inherent part of the complex process of obtaining scientific results, and we must understand it in order to know how to tackle it. As the recent COVID-19 pandemic made clear, even when taking into account the uncertainty inherent to the scientific process, there is no substitute for the self-correcting scientific method to allow the global human society to address the challenges we are facing.


The CT Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences (IBaCS) offers IBACS-BIRC Research Assistantships in Neuroimaging (IBRAiN). After formal training, IBRAiN fellows provide a teaching resource to help BIRC users design and implement experimental procedures for fMRI, EEG, TMS and other methodologies, provide resources for data analysis, and oversee use of equipment by others. Click here for more information about applying to this program.

Virtual Talk: Danielle Bassett, University of Pennsylvania

Danielle S. Bassett, PhD

University of Pennsylvania

Science as Culture – PART ONE OF A TWO PART SERIES

Tuesday, May 19th from 12–1:15pm ET via Zoom

**Register here for Zoom using your institution/university email address**

Bio: Danielle S. Bassett is the J Peter Skirkanich Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with affiliations in the Departments of Bioengineering, Physics & Astronomy, Electrical & Systems Engineering, Neurology, and Psychiatry. She is also an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. She is most well known for her work blending neural and systems engineering to identify fundamental mechanisms of cognition and disease in human brain networks. She received a B.S. in physics from Penn State University and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge, UK as a Churchill Scholar, and as an NIH Health Sciences Scholar. She has received multiple prestigious awards, including American Psychological Association’s ‘Rising Star’ (2012), Alfred P Sloan Research Fellow (2014), MacArthur Fellow Genius Grant (2014), Early Academic Achievement Award from the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (2015), Harvard Higher Education Leader (2015), Office of Naval Research Young Investigator (2015), National Science Foundation CAREER (2016), Popular Science Brilliant 10 (2016), Lagrange Prize in Complex Systems Science (2017), Erdos-Renyi Prize in Network Science (2018), AIMBE College of Fellows (2020). She is the author of more than 280 peer-reviewed publications, which have garnered over 21,000 citations, as well as numerous book chapters and teaching materials. She is the founding director of the Penn Network Visualization Program, a combined undergraduate art internship and K-12 outreach program bridging network science and the visual arts.

Abstract: Science is made by humans, and the progress of science is to some degree determined by the culture of scientists. How do we build scientific knowledge? How do the questions we ask change with time? How do we choose questions to ask? Here I will discuss a few of our recent studies in which we examine the titles, keywords, abstracts, and reference lists of neuroimaging papers to better understand the culture of our particular sector of science. We’ll touch on the evolving landscape of topics and the role of interdisciplinarity, before diving deeply into recent evidence of gender and racial disparities in whom we choose to cite in our papers. The work raises important questions about what kind of culture — along with its goals, values, and ethics — we might hope to create in the future.

Click here to see the full BIRC Speaker Series schedule and access recordings of past talks.

Neuroscience Online Events 2020

Dear BIRC Community,

Many neuroscience conferences this year have moved to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic making them far more accessible while decreasing registration costs. Please see a collection of relevant events below. We hope that you are able to take advantage of these resources.

  • World Wide Neuro
  • XhM Foundation Neuroscience for Kosovo
  • NeuroData Without Borders Hackathon
    • May 12th-15th, 2020
    • Free Registration
    • “In contrast to conferences, where the primary focus is to report results, the objective of the Hackathon is to provide a venue for NWB users and tool developers to learn about NWB and collaboratively work on any NWB-related research projects. This event is meant to foster community and collaboration around NWB, not competition.”
    • Additional information
  • BIRC Special Virtual Seminars
    • Typically every 2 weeks at 12pm ET
    • Upcoming talks scheduled for May19th and 26th
    • Schedule
    • email to receive talk updates
  • Virtual Dopamine Conference
  • Neuro Technology Center: Optogenetics Symposium
  • Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS)
    • June 21-23
    • Registration: free
    • Likely it will involve some combination of content communicated via video (e.g., pre-recorded workshops) and other content that involves interactive video-conferencing (e.g., live hackathons). We will let you know more as this planning takes form, and are excited to see how this new meeting takes shape in the hands of both the SIPS leadership and the SIPS community. 
    • Additional information
  • Gradients of Brain Organisation Virtual Satellite Event 
    • June 23
    • “Early career researchers will take centre stage for a series of talks on state-of-the-art development and application of gradient approaches”
    • Registration is free
    • Additional information
  • Scipy (Scientific Computing with Python) Conference
    • July 6-12
    • Students: $25 ; non students: $75
    • The annual SciPy Conference brings together over 900 participants from industry, academia, and government to showcase their latest projects, learn from skilled users and developers, and collaborate on code development. The full program will consist of 5 days tutorials and talks (July 6-10) and 2 days of developer sprints (July 11-12).
    • Additional information
  • Neuromatch Academy
    • “The Neuromatch Academy will be an open, online, 3-week intensive tutorial-based computational neuroscience training event (July 13-31, 2020). Participants from undergraduate to professors as well as industry are welcome”
    • Deadline to register: May 7th, 2020 (TODAY), by Midnight
    • Additional information 
  • Federation of European Neuroscience Societies Virtual Forum
    • July 20-22, 2020
    • Registration fees: €450 for non-member, €205 for student non-members
    • Additional information
  • Neuro HACKADEMY Summer School
    • July 27th-31st, 2020
    • “a summer school in neuroimaging and data science, held at the University of Washington eScience Institute.”
    • Apply for registration
  • Computational Psychiatry Course Zurich
    • September 7th-12th, 2020
    • This course is organized by the Translational Neuromodeling Unit (TNU) , University of Zurich & ETH Zurich and is designed to provide students across fields (neuroscience, psychiatry, physics, biology, psychology….) with the necessary toolkit to master challenges in computational psychiatry research.
    • Practically useful for students at all levels (MDs, Master, PhD, Postdoc, PI) coming from diverse backgrounds (neuroscience, psychology, medicine, engineering, physics, etc.), who would like to apply modeling techniques to study learning, decision-making or brain physiology in patients with psychiatric disorders
    • Free registration, closes August 23rd 2020
    • (Will be held online, not Zurich)
    • Registration

    Virtual Talk: Nathan Spreng, McGill University

    Nathan Spreng, PhD

    McGill University

    Explorations into the default network of the human brain

    Tuesday, May 5th from 12–1:15pm ET via Zoom

    **Register here for Zoom using your institution/university email address**

    Bio: After receiving a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from the psychology department at UCLA in 2006, Dr. Uddin completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Child Study Center at NYU. For several years she worked as a faculty member in Psychiatry & Behavioral Science at the Stanford School of Medicine. She joined the psychology department at the University of Miami in 2014. Within a cognitive neuroscience framework, Dr. Uddin’s research combines functional connectivity analyses of resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data and structural connectivity analyses of diffusion tensor imaging data to examine the organization of large-scale brain networks supporting executive functions. Her current projects focus on understanding dynamic network interactions underlying cognitive inflexibility in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. Dr. Uddin’s work has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Cerebral Cortex, JAMA Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, PNAS, and Nature Reviews Neuroscience. She was awarded the Young Investigator award by the Organization for Human Brain Mapping in 2017.

    Abstract: Executive control processes and flexible behaviors rely on the integrity of, and dynamic interactions between, several core large-scale brain networks. The right insular cortex is a critical component of a salience network that is thought to mediate interactions between brain networks involved in externally oriented and internally oriented processes. I will describe studies examining how brain network dynamics support flexible behaviors in typical and atypical development, presenting evidence suggesting a unique role for the dorsal anterior insular from studies of meta- analytic connectivity modeling, dynamic functional connectivity, and structural connectivity. These findings from adults, typically developing children, and children with autism suggest that structural and functional maturation of insular pathways is a critical component of the process by which human brain networks mature to support complex, flexible cognitive processes throughout the lifespan.

    Click here to see the full BIRC Speaker Series schedule and access recordings of past talks.

    Virtual Talk: Daniel Ansari, University of Western Ontario

    Daniel Ansari, PhD

    University of Western Ontario

    Wednesday, April 1st from 1:00-2:15 pm EST via Zoom

    **Register here for Zoom using your university/institution email address**


    Humans share with animals the ability to process numerical quantities in non-symbolic formats (e.g., collections of objects). Unlike other species, however, over cultural history, humans have developed symbolic representations (such as number words and digits) to represent numerical quantities exactly and abstractly. These symbols and their semantic referents form the foundations for higher-level numerical and mathematical skills. It is commonly assumed that symbols for number acquire their meaning by being mapped onto the pre-existing, phylogenetically ancient system for the approximate representation of non-symbolic number over the course of learning and development. In this talk I will challenge this hypothesis for how numerical symbols acquire their meanings (“the symbol grounding problem”). To do so, I will present a series of behavioral and neuroimaging studies with both children and adults that demonstrate that symbolic and non-symbolic processing of number is dissociated at both the behavioral and brain levels of analysis. I will discuss the implications of these data for theories of the origins of numerical symbol processing and its breakdown in children with mathematical learning disorders, such as Developmental Dyscalculia.

    Bio: Daniel Ansari received his PhD from University College London in 2003. Presently, Daniel Ansari is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology and the Brain & Mind Institute at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, where he heads the Numerical Cognition Laboratory ( Ansari and his team explore the developmental trajectory underlying both the typical and atypical development of numerical and mathematical skills, using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods.

    Click here to see the full BIRC Speaker Series schedule and access recordings of past talks.