Of Brains and Braids: Classifying Waveforms

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Submitted by Eliza Kosoy at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research

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At a distance, this image looks like a simple twisted braid of colors; however, these colors represent the blend of different scientific fields. Mimicking the way in which a braid is a blend of multiple pieces, this image blends neuroscience, mathematics and computer science together. It takes data from the brain and uses mathematical formulas through computer science to help us further understand the language of the brain.

When individual brain cells “fire”, they each have a characteristic electrical waveform that is slightly different from that of nearby cells.  Our data set consists of waveforms from many brain cells simultaneously recorded while a rat is learning a task.  The four panels of our image are four wires recording from one brain region. Each colored line represents different “components” or shapes present in the waveforms recorded on each wire. After sorting waveforms into those from different cells, we can determine how the firing of single cells relates to different behaviors that the rat performed while the recordings were made. This specific image was taken in order to understand how to classify the units of brain wave results better.