By Matthew Moye
Earlier this year, I was invited to visit the Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare at the University of Exeter for a couple of weeks. I am finishing up my PhD in Mathematics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology with a focus on computational neuroscience. My advisor, Dr Casey Diekman, is currently on sabbatical at Exeter as a Fulbright Scholar, and he coordinated my trip from the States. From a personal stance, I had never left the U.S., so receiving the opportunity to go abroad for research was both exciting, and, admittedly, a bit nerve-wracking.
I genuinely could not have asked for a better place to visit. Throughout my trip, I was able to interface with several prodigious researchers and elevate my own understanding of how life science and computational disciplines intersect. My visit led with a QBME Seminar I gave on my dissertation work, entitled “Data Assimilation for Conductance-Based Neuronal Models”, that was hosted by Dr Piotr Slowinski and Dr Tanja Zerenner. Following the talk, Casey and I had an engaging discussion with Dr Kyle Wedgwood on the advancement of modelling and recording techniques in neural systems. We spoke with Jake Pitt and Dr Ozgur Akman, for whom I owe specific gratitude on funding my trip, about identifiability of parameters in nonlinear models, and how these systems can be controlled. Dr Joel Tabak exchanged with us stories of the pratfalls of naïve parameter estimation in neural models, as well as the pratfalls involved in hang gliding. Dr Mino Belle illuminated many electrophysiological protocols and practices that were a first for me, being that I am a scientist who spends most of his time coding neural models as opposed to studying the neural slices firsthand. With him, we had several discussions on the driving forces in circadian neural activity and variation across species. I had further great interactions with Dr Camille Poignard, Dr Leandro Junges, and many others, either at the university or for casual drinks at the pub. Special thanks to Chrissie Walker for introducing me to some quality British television including Only Connect and QI.
When I wasn’t overly jetlagged or marathoning work, I was able to do a bit of exploration in town. I had my first savory pie and mash at Pieminister, Sunday carvery at the lovely Mill on the Exe, and first cream tea at the The Quayside Café.
As far as dining goes, my favorite dishes I experienced were a sourdough pizza from Franco Manca topped with Italian cured meats, and the Westcountry burger on a brioche bun from the Oddfellows. As an avid soccer fan, I got to attend my first proper English football match as I saw Exeter F.C. take on Colchester United at home in what could only be described as a gripping nil-nil battle. The street art and architecture in town made every stroll a pleasant one.
During my second week, Casey and I traveled to Bristol for a couple days as he gave a talk in the Biomedical Sciences Building on the application of data assimilation tools to the study of circadian rhythms. We took the ferry from the train station to the city centre which was an absolutely stellar ride. Dr Edgar Buhl and Dr James Hodge discussed with us about Drosophila clock neurons and showed some of their fascinating experimental rigs for monitoring motor activity and behavioral responses of the fly. Dr Dave Lyons shared with us a comprehensive understanding of electrophysiology in endocrinology. Dr Jack Mellor provided some cool details on synaptic plasticity and memory, and we discussed emerging topics of life science research with Dr Hugh Piggins.
All in all, I would like to thank everyone involved in bringing me over and hope I can come back sometime soon! Preferably during rugby season.