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October 5, 2011

Making great strides in brain research

photo of Qibin Zhao

Qibin Zhao, Research Scientist

RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Laboratory for Advanced Brain Signal Processing

What do you do at RIKEN?

My research focuses on the interface between computer science and neuroscience, particularly with regards to brain signal processing and brain–computer interfaces. My goals included developing advanced machine learning methods for multidimensional and multimodal brain data analysis, as well as extracting or predicting subjects’ intentions based on their brain activities. I am trying to develop multiway analysis tools such as non-negative tensor decomposition and multilinear partial least squares to extract more effective features for the classification of brain signals. This will provide a better understanding of the working patterns or functional connectivity of the brain structure.

How and when did you join RIKEN?

As a PhD student in China, I became aware of the work of Dr Cichocki in the Laboratory for Advanced Brain Signal Processing at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI). Doctor Cichocki is world-renowned for developing software such as the Independent Component Analysis Laboratory toolbox. I applied for the RIKEN Brain Science Institute Summer Program in 2007 on the recommendation of my supervisor in China, who had spent five years at the RIKEN BSI, and I was fortunate to be accepted as an intern in Dr Cichocki’s laboratory. I later joined RIKEN without hesitation after obtaining my PhD in 2009.

How was the transition to life at RIKEN?

When I first came to RIKEN in 2007, I was really worried about living in Japan because I couldn’t speak Japanese at all. Fortunately, my Chinese language background allowed me to understand Chinese characters, which are also used in Japanese. My colleagues were friendly and helpful, and the laboratory secretary and staff at the Brain Science Promotion Division made my stay in Japan comfortable, productive and enjoyable.

Please tell us about your research or other work at RIKEN.

My research focuses on non-invasive brain–computer interfaces and advanced brain signal processing, which are used to develop tools for analysis, extraction, enhancement, de-noising and the classification of brain signals, especially for measurements using high-density array electroencephalography systems. By determining intentions based on the electrical activity of a person’s brain, modern machine learning and mathematical methods can be developed. I have recently been working on multiway data analysis techniques that allow the creation of new models by organizing data in a high-dimensional form.

What have been the highlights of your time at RIKEN so far?

Thanks to Dr Cichocki’s excellent guidance, I have been able to achieve some favorable results for our brain–computer interface through the use of advanced brain signal processing methods and high-quality electroencephalography devices. My colleagues and I have also developed a fast brain–computer interface system to control cars, wheelchairs or robotic arms in three-dimensional virtual reality, and the results were picked up by the media. In 2010, one of our papers was awarded best paper by the Asia Pacific Neural Network Assembly. In 2011, we received a top-10 ranking in the nominations for The Annual Brain–Computer Interface Research Award. My wonderful experiences at RIKEN have been invaluable for my future career in research and science.

What has been the best thing about working at RIKEN?

At RIKEN we not only enjoy top-level research but also many other activities. The staff at RIKEN are friendly and helpful because they offer a great variety of scientific and non-scientific activities.

What would you say to other people considering joining RIKEN?

The open, international research environment at RIKEN provides excellent opportunities for talented and ambitious researchers, especially for young scientists.