Collaboration in new NEC Building starts with star student researchers
Since its grand opening in the spring of 2015, the Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration (NEC) Building has enabled some of the university’s brightest student researchers like Adam Deardorff and Emily Diller to work together to create innovations that improve people’s lives.
“It’s not just new lab space, it’s not just a new building,” Diller said. “This is an opportunity for great minds to come together and make really big things happen. And we have to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Diller is a graduate biomedical engineering student studying how tiny vibrations can improve a person’s fine-motor skills.
Deardorff is an M.D./Ph.D. student studying neural control of movement.
They are among the top graduate and undergraduate students at Wright State who are working in the NEC Building’s bullpen—an open area on the third and fourth floors connected by an open stairway.
The dynamic space can accommodate up to 30 students who are purposely mixed together to encourage connections—and collaborative research—between students of different disciplines, including neuroscience, engineering, and psychology.
Filled with whiteboards, moveable desks and furniture, and areas where students can interact both professionally and socially, the bullpen plays a key role in promoting collaboration between researchers.
The space integrates the neuroscientists with the engineers, bringing interdisciplinary collaboration alive. Mixing students of different disciplines in the same space encourages them to establish relationships so they can better work together to bridge the distinct disciplines.
Deardorff said students are excited to move into the bullpen. “We love talking to each other and learning from each other. That’s why we’re here,” he said.
Wright State students have the freedom to pursue strong research ideas with support from faculty.
“Student ideas can contribute greatly to the direction of the research. The more opportunities we have to learn from and collaborate with one another, the better the ideas we bring to our professors,” Deardorff said.
While their research originates in different disciplines and colleges, Deardorff’s and Diller’s studies have much in common.
“If we can develop a mutual understanding of each other’s work, then we can collaborate more effectively. I think if we can combine principles of sensorimotor physiology and engineering to develop better experiments and better interventions, it will push our research to the next level. We have an opportunity to really make a difference in people’s lives,” said Deardorff.
He spent the first two years of the M.D./Ph.D. program in medical school and the last five years pursuing his Ph.D. He returned to medical school this past summer for two more years.
He also has a master’s degree in anatomy from Wright State and received his bachelor’s degree in zoology and environmental science from Miami University.
During his Ph.D. research, Deardorff has worked closely with Tim Cope, Ph.D., adjunct professor and former chair of neuroscience, cell biology, and physiology, studying spinal cord physiology and intracellular recording; with Robert Fyffe, Ph.D., vice president of research and dean of the Graduate School, studying spinal cord anatomy and quantitative confocal microscopy; and with Mark Rich, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neuroscience, cell biology, and physiology, and director of the WSU and Premier Health Neuroscience Institute, learning how laboratory research is translated into improved patient care.
“I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from them,” Deardorff said.
Deardorff’s research examines the neural basis for coordinated, purposeful movement. He examines motor neurons, which are cells in the spinal cord that fire electrical signals, known as action potentials, that cause muscles to contract, and sensory neurons that send electrical signals to the brain and spinal cord about body and limb position.
The nervous system can vary the excitability of a cell, and the more excitable a cell is the easier it is for the cell to fire an action potential, he said.
Deardorff is studying why healthy motor neurons work while other nerves are dysfunctional and whether they can be repaired through drugs or surgery.
“We’re studying these pathways to understand not only how we move, but also what goes wrong in movement disorders,” he said.
His research may be able to help people who have nerve injuries in their legs, arms, or spinal cord and chemotherapy patients experiencing discoordinated movements or an unstable gate.
Deardorff published his research in the Journal of Physiology in 2013 and Frontiers in Neural Circuits in 2014 and presented at the International Motoneuron Meeting in 2012 in Australia, where he received an award for best oral presentation by a student.