Bharat Biswal, PhD, an internationally renowned researcher recognized for mapping the brain’s activity, will join NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering this fall as a full professor and chair of the NJIT Department of Biomedical Engineering. He numbers among more than 20 new faculty members, who are expected to add momentum to NJIT’s strategic plan and make an impact on the quality of life in the 21st century. The interdisciplinary initiative is focused on three vital areas: convergent life science and engineering, “digital everyware” — ubiquitous computing — and sustainable systems.
The women and men joining NJIT to serve a growing student body bring expertise that spans diverse supporting clusters. These include advanced manufacturing, architecture design and construction, big data, biochemistry, business systems, material science and engineering, and sensing and control.
“NJIT’s academic status and interdisciplinary strategy have attracted people at various stages of their careers, and who offer NJIT both distinctive abilities and new resources,” says Provost Ian Gatley. “Enthusiasm for NJIT’s interdisciplinary commitment was apparent during the search process. Everyone interviewed spoke about how the problems they work on are inherently interdisciplinary, how they like to work on teams, how they look forward to collaborating with colleagues across disciplines.”
Donald Sebastian, NJIT’s senior vice president for research and development, emphasizes that connecting with real-world issues is at the heart of expectations for a technological research university. “Academic disciplines are the core of the university and the framework for learning. However, their alignment with industries of the future is not as obvious as with those sectors that have prevailed over the last century. Our strategic research thrusts are designed to make those 21st-century connections explicit.” Convergent life science and engineering, digital everyware and sustainable systems — themes that transcend departments or colleges — shaped NJIT’s hiring plan, he adds.
Prior to joining NJIT, Biswal was a professor of radiology at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey. The National Institutes of Health have provided support for his research. What’s more, the National Institute of Mental Health has cited his recent findings—published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences–as the second most significant research advancement of 2010.
Fifteen years ago as a graduate student at The Medical College of Wisconsin, Biswal, who was working under the direction of his advisor, James S. Hyde, made a startling discovery: The brain, even during rest, contains information about the functional organization of the brain. He had used fMRI to study how different regions of the brain communicate while the brain is at rest and not performing any active task. At the time, Biswal’s research was questioned; however, more recently his neuroimaging technique has been widely replicated and used. Mapping the brain’s activity while the body is at rest helps doctors diagnose various diseases of the brain.
Biswal helped create the 1,000 Functional Connectomes Project, which gathers functional brain imaging data from centers around the world. The project created an open resource for mapping and understanding brain functions. The database includes information on 1,400 participants and Biswal is organizing it to enable researchers to search the data by demographic detail. Researchers from across the globe have downloaded this data more than 50,000 times. A careful characterization of gender or age-specific brain architecture can potentially help clinicians use an individual patient’s brain images to identify deviations in data from healthy patients in the same demographic, says Biswal. And that comparison could help clinicians to detect, early on, such conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Biswal has also recently co-founded the peer-reviewed journal Brain Connectivity and serves as a co-editor. It is considered to be one of the leading journals for researchers and clinicians interested in brain connectivity. His hope is that a new journal focusing solely on brain connectivity will foster greater research interest in this area. Another aim, adds Biswal, is to bring together researchers working on all aspects of brain connectivity to help accelerate the field and to assist doctors and clinicians to detect brain diseases.