Neuroengineering (IGERT)

Welcome to the Rice University/Baylor College of Medicine Neuroengineering IGERT!
The goal of this program is to provide students with the educational and research training needed to develop new tools to understand, interface with, model, and manipulate the nervous system. Students in our program will obtain an interdisciplinary understanding of the nervous system from the level of molecular and cellular processes to the level of information processing within neural circuits composed of millions of cells. The long term goal of this research is to develop innovative approaches to the complex challenges of restoring function to individuals suffering from disorders of the nervous system.

 Steering Committee:
Robert Raphael, PI
Behnaam Aazhang, co-PI
Dora Angelaki, co-PI
Caleb Kemere, co-PI
Marcia O’Malley, co-PI
Xaq Pitkow
Jacob Robinson
Amina Qutub



Neuroengineering is a rapidly emerging field that spans the traditional disciplines of neuroscience, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and bioengineering. Current efforts in neuroengineering are typically based on neuronal models that reduce cellular activity to an action potential, or “spike.” The spike then becomes the input to higher-order models of neuronal circuits. Therefore, the major scientific challenge is to record and analyze spike data from large numbers of neurons, and to understand how activity within these neural circuits characterizes neurophysiological substrates. Traditionally, this problem has been considered to belong in the domain of systems neuroscience, where experimental recording methods developed over the last decade have laid a foundation for the exciting development of brain-machine interfaces that can decode user intentions.

Rationale for a new approach to neuroengineering research and education. We now understand that the molecular basis of neuronal function and dysfunction can rarely be reduced to the impact of individual mutations, but rather requires an understanding of the complex network of proteins and signaling processes that determine the state of the cell. Furthermore, a complete description of cell status requires the language and tools of systems biology to integrate multi-scale biological data and to characterize systems in a way that is both quantitative and mechanistic. In addition, multicellular networks of neurons share common conceptual ground with biochemical signaling networks within the neuron. Their dynamics are nonlinear and multivariate – whether they are networks of interacting proteins, networks of membrane channels, or networks of neurons. To characterize these complex processes across multiple levels requires a clear understanding of the concepts of signal processing, feedback elements, and regulatory elements. Additionally, both neuroscientists and systems biologists face common challenges related to combinatorial complexity and high dimensionality of experimental data. The fundamental premise of our education and training program is that the neuroengineer of the future must understand and control both networks – the network within the neuron and the network beyond the neuron (Fig.1). Gaining an ability to control both networks will transform current technology and lay the foundation for optimized therapy for neural disorders.

Use and advantage of problem-based learning to teach neuroengineering. To achieve these objectives, we propose a curriculum based on problem-based learning. In these courses, students will learn neuroengineering principles not by attending a series of lectures, but instead by working through and solving complex, open-ended problems with support and guidance from their instructors.

Emphasis on innovation and introduction to technology development and commercialization. Our students are eager to identify and pursue solutions to larger societal problems, and to develop innovations that will make a positive and lasting contribution to society. The interdisciplinary field of neuroengineering offers students especially abundant possibilities for making such a contribution. Throughout the IGERT, we will use the Competitive Incentive Fund as an engine to drive students to take research beyond the level of discovery. Interactions with medical device companies and optional courses in Technology Entrepreneurship will teach students the processes and practices involved in technology development and commercialization.

Emphasis on professional development. Throughout the IGERT program, students will participate in a broad range of professional development activities. When students enter the IGERT program, they will be matched with one of the program co-investigators, who will serve as their mentor, offering them guidance not only in technical matters, but also in myriad professional development topics. Students will develop communication skills in the context of core courses, and the denouement for the IGERT program will be for students to give an hour-long talk – in the style of a TED (Technology, Entrepreneurship and Design) talk – to the IGERT faculty and students that will be publicly advertised and also available online. These professional development activities will be complemented throughout the training program in both formal ways (through course meetings, reading assignments) and informal ways (through discussions with faculty, mentors, and other students), and students will be made aware of career opportunities in academia, industry, and science policy and will be given opportunities to take electives in these areas. Furthermore, students will develop an appreciation for the global nature and context of neuroengineering research by taking a course in Global, Ethical, and Policy Considerations in Neuroengineering and by participating in international collaborations.

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Applications are not open at this time.

Eligibility Requirements

U.S. citizen or permanent resident
Strong undergraduate and graduate (if applicable) GPA; excellent GRE scores
Be enrolled in one of our participating institutions/departments (See Below)

Application Checklist – Submit all items electronically to:

Complete and submit the Application Form. Please be certain to fill out the application completely.
Attach your Project Information document to the Application form, or send it as a separate file to
Secure one letter of recommendation from people other than your mentor. The recommender should send their letter directly to
Email or mail hard copies of the following items to the address below:

1. Current Resume (or Curriculum vitae) that includes previous education, honors/awards, research experiences, publications, conference abstracts

2. Copies of transcripts from ALL undergraduate and graduate institutions attended as a full-time student

3. Proof of citizenship (copy of passport, birth certificate, or permanent resident card)

To be submitted by applicant’s mentor-

Letter of recommendation on university letterhead that specifically addresses both (1) the applicant’s suitability for an interdisciplinary program bridging engineering and neuroscience; and (2) the applicant’s demonstrated commitment to advanced study in the field of neuroengineering.

All application materials must be received by Friday, May 19, 2017 by mail at the address below, or by email to Vanessa Herrera (

Vanessa Herrera
BioScience Research Collaborative, Suite 160
6500 Main Street, MS-141
Houston, Texas 77005

Applicants must also have a completed graduate application on file with one of the participating graduate programs at Baylor College of Medicine or Rice University (listed below). Applicants who have NOT submitted an application to one of our participating graduate programs will not be considered for this IGERT program.

Baylor College of Medicine – Department of Neuroscience

Rice University – Department of Bioengineering

Rice University – Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

Rice University – Department of Mechanical Engineering

Please contact Vanessa Herrera at with questions about the IGERT application process. For questions about the application process to participating graduate schools, please contact the program directly.

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Program Director:
Robert M. Raphael, PhD (
Phone: (713)348-3494 or (713)348-3129
Location: BioScience Research Collaborative Ste. 719


Program Questions:
Vanessa Herrera (
Phone: (713) 348-4752
Location: BioScience Research Collaborative Ste. 160

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Courses and Program Requirements

Required Courses for IGERT Trainees:
Independent Research (RU BIOE 506) Instructor-Raphael
Sensory Neuroengineering (RU BIOE 592) Instructor-Raphael
Neural Signal Processing (RU ELEC 548) Instructor-Kemere
Translational Neuroengineering (RU MECH 599) Instructor-O’Malley
Global Ethics & Policy in Neuroengineering (under development for Spring 2018 at RU) Instructor-Raphael
Strongly Recommended:
Introduction to Neuroengineering (RU BIOE 590) Instructor-Robinson
Learning from Sensor Data (RU BIOE 575) Instructor-Baraniuk

During fellowship trainees are required to take one of the following technical electives:
Nano-Neurotechnology (RU BIOE / ELEC 680) Instructor-Robinson
Data Mining & Statistical Learning (RU STAT 444) Instructor-Allen
Bioinformatics: Network Analysis (RU BIOC 572) Instructor-Nakhleh
Physiological Control Systems (RU BIOE / ELEC 482) Instructor-Clark
Theoretical & Computational Neuroscience I (RU NEUR 415)
Theoretical & Computational Neuroscience II (RU NEUR 416)

During fellowship trainees are also required to take a course on one of the following subjects:
– Entrepreneurship
– Policy
– Professional Development

Recommended Course:
Intro to Neuroengineering (RU ELEC480/BIOE480) Instructor-Robinson

Other fellowship requirements:
Cluster for Neuroengineering Annual Symposium (TBA) – Trainees will attend conference and participate in poster session every year of fellowship
– Keck Annual Research Conference (October 26, 2018) – Trainees will attend conference and participate in poster session every year of fellowship
– Annual IGERT retreat (2018 date TBD) – Trainees will attend and present research every year of fellowship
– Annual IGERT evaluation (Summer 2018) – participate in annual program evaluation and submit progress report and other needed verification documents
– Weekly IGERT trainee meetings – Trainees will meet weekly as part of BIOE 506 (Fall 2017 and Spring 2018) to discuss their ongoing research and promote camaraderie and a more unified cohort.
– Develop an Individual Development Plan (IPD) via your home institution or the AAAS online guide. You will not be required to submit a copy to program administration, but you will be asked to report on goal-setting and goal attainment.
Complete Responsible Conduct of Research (NIH-approved ethics course)

Seminar and Workshop Attendance:
Trainees are required to attend one workshop and 5-10 seminars per semester. Of these, they must attend:
– Rigor and Reproducibility Workshop, TBA
– Two (2) Keck Seminars (minimum of 2 required)
– Three (3) BCM Neuroscience Seminars (minimum of 3 required)
Rice Bioengineering Seminar Series (no minimum required)
Rice Electrical & Computer Engineering Seminar Series (no minimum required)
UT Neurobiology & Anatomy Seminar Series (no minimum required)
*NOTE: Some seminars and poster presentations at local conferences will be designated as required as opportunities present themselves as part of BIOE 506.

Outreach experience through BrainStem (a project led by Rice faculty)
Rice Neuroscience Society (a student-run and organized group)
Trainees are welcome to recommend other neuroscience-related community outreach projects to fulfill this requirement.

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Principal Investigator
Robert M. Raphael, Rice Bioengineering: Auditory bioengineering

Dora Angelaki, Baylor College of Medicine, Neuroscience: Somatosensory integration
Marcia O’Malley, Rice, Mechanical Engineering: Neurorobotics
Behnaam Aazhang, Rice, Electrical and Computer Engineering: Information theory
Caleb Kemere, Rice, Electrical and Computer Engineering: Neural interfacing

Baylor College of Medicine Department of Neuroscience Researchers
William Brownell,: Hair cell and efferent neurophysiology
Fabrizo Gabbiani,: Sensory information processing
Andrew Groves, : Genetics, hair cell development
Xaq Pitkow, Computational Neuroscience
Andreas Tolias: Neocortical circuits

Rice University Researchers
Genevera Allen, Statistics: Data mining
Rich Baraniuk, Electrical and Computer Engineering: Signal processing
Janice Bordeaux, Psychology: Educational assessment
Steve Cox, Computational and Applied Math: Computational neuroscience
Michael Diehl, Bioengineering: Cellular imaging
Herb Levine, Bioengineering: Physical biology
Amina Qutub, Bioengineering: Systems biology
Jacob Robinson, Electrical and Computer Engineering: Nanofabrication
Ann Saterbak, Bioengineering: Problem-based learning
Jeff Tabor, Bioengineering: Synthetic biology

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News and Events

Fall ’17 – The Cluster for Neuroengineering Annual Symposium will be October 26, 2017, at the BioScience Research Collaborative, 6500 Main Street, Houston.

2017 IGERT retreat, Jan 5-6, 2017
 Agenda; pictures below.

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  1. Cellular Systems Neuroengineering – Will use synthetic biology, systems biology, and advanced optical imaging to understand and manipulate complex molecular and cellular signaling processes underlying the behavior of sensory cells and neurons.
  2. Engineering Multi-Neuron Circuits – Will develop nanofabricated electrode arrays and advanced optical imaging technology to interface with the nervous system, and sophisticated signal processing techniques to interpret the resulting complex datasets to engineer the response of multi-neuron circuits.
  3. Translational Neuroengineering – Will use pattern recognition, information theory, and machine learning approaches to develop new methods that better control clinical devices such as smart prosthetics and deep brain stimulators via deeper understanding of whole brain function and structure.

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Current Neuroscience IGERT Trainees (2017-2018)
Click here for Current Trainees’ project descriptions.





Madeline Burns




Joshua Chu




Hamin Jeon




Colin Noe




Matthew Evan Pezent




Ankit Raghuram




Dan Sazer




Sudha Yellapantula




Joseph Young




James Webb




Previous IGERT Trainees:





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