News Release

Students Explore Topics Outside Comfort Zone

San Diego, CA, September 30, 2009 -- Students from UC San Diego and a handful of other universities spent two weeks in August getting intensive instruction and hands-on lab experience on projects well outside their areas of expertise. UC San Diego’s Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC) provided this horizon-broadening “boot camp” to 19 intrepid electrical engineering, psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and computer science students.

The first week of the boot camp covered the areas of the four networks of TDLC: sensory-motor learning, interacting memory systems, perceptual expertise, social interaction, as well as computational models of learning.

One of six Science of Learning Centers funded by the National Science Foundation, the TDLC is focused on understanding how the elements of time and timing are critical for learning, with the ultimate goal of applying this understanding to improve educational practice.

TDLC boot camp 1

A boot camp scene from TDLC's Motion Capture/Brain Dynamics Facility, located in the San Diego Supercomputer Center.(L-R) Natasha Avis, UC Santa Barbara (in the body suit); David Peterson, Institute for Neural Computation postdoc adjusting the head mounted display; Mary Mullane, UCSD Psychology department; Ashish Tawari, UCSD Electrical and Computer Engineering department; Cuong Tran UCSD Computer Science and Engineering department; and Cory Rieth UCSD Psychology department.

The boot camp participants from UC San Diego, Brown University, Vanderbilt University, University of Colorado, and the University at Buffalo also learned to use the TDLC’s state of the art Motion Capture/Brain Dynamics facility. Here, techniques for simultaneous recording of motion, brain waves, and eye movements of a person immersed in virtual reality are being developed.

“This is the first facility of its type to provide these capabilities, and enables the fine-grained study of changes in motor behavior, information-seeking behavior (eye movements) and brain responses during learning,” said Howard Poizner, the Motion Capture Facility’s Director, a research scientist at UC San Diego’s Institute for Neural Computation and an adjunct professor of cognitive science at UCSD. Poizner directed the development of the system both within TDLC and from a $1,000,000 equipment grant from the Office of Naval Research.

To experience the Motion Capture/Brain Dynamics facility, a subject puts on a body suit outfitted with devices that emit signals that are detected by a number of cameras around the room. The subject also puts on a head-mounted display (HMD) and an electroencephalography (EEG) recording cap. The HMD provides a visual virtual reality environment and the EEG system provides information on the collective action of large ensembles of neurons within the brain by recording the electrical activity at the scalp.

TDLC boot camp

A camp scene from TDLC's Motion Capture/Brain Dynamics Facility, in the San Diego Supercomputer Center.(L-R) Natasha Avis, UC Santa Barbara (in the body suit); and Angelica Rodriguez, a post-baccalaureate researcher in UC San Diego’s Machine Perception Lab, which is housed at Calit2.

This combination of devices allows for the simultaneous recording of a person’s movement and brain activity while that person navigates a virtual desert city environment displayed in the HMD. Researchers in the Motion Capture/Brain Dynamics room can simultaneously view—on a monitor—both what the subject is seeing in the goggles as well as the subject’s avatar in the virtual environment.


This first week of boot camp prepared the students to undertake an intensive research project during week two. The participants were encouraged to choose a project in an area they had limited or no experience in prior to the boot camp.

Ashish Tawari is a second year electrical engineering Ph.D. student at the Jacobs School of Engineering who participated in the boot camp. He is working to identify the emotions of car drivers, with hopes of using this information to make driving safer. Through the boot camp, Tawari got hands-on experience with “independent component analysis” (ICA), a technique for separating out independent features of an environment. The technique was something he was aware of, but didn’t have any practical experience with. “It’s likely that [ICA] will be useful in separating the voices of humans driving cars from background noise,” said Tawari, a member of electrical engineering professor Mohan Trivedi’s Computer Vision and Robotics Research Laboratory at UCSD.

With the support of teaching assistants, boot camp participants defined the research objectives of their projects, collected and analyzed data, and presented their results in half-hour talks on the last day of the program. Individual videos of each of the project summaries are available on the website of TDLC’s partner The Science Network:

Projects topics are: Computational Modeling, Perceptual Expertise, Motion Capture, Sensory Motor (Psychophysics), Social Interaction, and Interacting Memory Systems.

Computer science professor Gary Cottrell, TDLC’s Director, sees the Center’s boot camp as an effective way of immersing young researchers in a variety of TDLC-related research methodologies within a relatively short span of time.

Ruixin Yang—who is beginning his graduate program in computer science at UC San Diego this fall—used the boot camp to learn the basics of machine learning.

“It was interesting to see the amount of detail and math that goes around in psychology and cognitive science,” said Yang, who studied computer science, computer engineering, and economics as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

After the intensive two week adventure, the participants returned to their labs with new research tools and a broader understanding of cross-disciplinary research. The hope is that the experience will contribute to new lines of inquiry that the students may not have otherwise considered pursuing.

“It was interesting to learn how people from different disciplines think. They see the same problems in different ways,” said Cuong Tran, a fourth year computer science Ph.D. student from UC San Diego, and also a member of professor Trivedi’s Computer Vision and Robotics Research Laboratory.

“We have already had follow up meetings with people from cognitive science and the motion capture lab,” said Tran. One of the planned collaborations: simultaneous use of EEG and computer vision approaches for recognizing human intentions.

Direct links to video of each project presentations are below:

Computational Modeling
Ruixin Yang (UC San Diego, Computer Science and Engineering Department)
Estella Liu (University at Buffalo, Psychology Department)
Ashish Tawari (UC San Diego, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department)
Run Time: 28 minutes )

Perceptual Expertise
Walter Talbott (UC San Diego, Cognitive Science Department)
Angelica Rodriguez (UC San Diego)
James McCloskey (UC San Diego, Cognitive Science Department)
(Run Time: 37 minutes)

Motion Capture
Mehrdad Yazdani (UC San Diego, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department)
Mary Mullane (UC San Diego, Psychology Department)
Cuong Tran (UC San Diego, Computer Science and Engineering Department)
Sameer Saproo (UC San Diego, Psychology Department)
(Run Time: 31 minutes)

Sensory Motor (Psychophysics)
Valerie Yorgan (Brown University, Neuroscience Department)
Ben Cipollini (UC San Diego, Cognitive Science Department)
(Run Time: 34 minutes)

Social Interaction
Kaya de Barbaro (UC San Diego, Cognitive Science Department)
Cory Reith (UC San Diego, Psychology Department)
(Run Time: 37 minutes)

Interacting Memory Systems
Robert Lindsey (University of Colorado, Computer Science Department)
Natasha Avis (UC Santa Barbara, Psychology Department)
Maria Borja (UC San Diego, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)
Ana Beth Van Gulick (Vanderbilt University, Psychology Department)
(Run Time: 32 minutes)

TDLC is sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Centers program, NSF grant #SBE-0542013.

More information about TDLC and their boot camp can be found on their website,


Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering