GondaThon: BIU’sn Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center Hacks Neuroscience

Do you frequently find yourself falling asleep at the wheel?  There could be an app that can analyze your brain waves in real time and alert you before you nod off.

Would you believe that an app is being created that allows paralyzed people to play “Guitar Hero” with their eyelids? Or that an app able to analyze your mood and feelings could be linked to a Tetris game that became harder or easier according to the mental state of each player.

These three were the winners in the first Neuroscience Hackathon, which took place in October 2015 at the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center.

The Leslie and Susan Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University brings together researchers from a variety of fields, all essential to understanding the brain, including psychology, physics, linguistics, computing and biology.

Researchers at the Gonda Center study the brain at all levels - from behavior and cognitive processing, through detailed mechanisms of information processing in neural circuits, to the analysis of vital molecules within nerve cells. Research approaches cover all techniques from personal interviews through electro physiology, and from molecular biology to abstract mathematical modeling.

This revolutionary event is the product of students from the Gonda Center who decided to innovate brain research in untraditional ways.   With their faculty, they established a Hackathon around various neuroscience issues studied at the Center – calling it "GondaThon," the first neuroscience oriented student hackathon.  One of the reasons for initiating this hackathon was to expose the fascinating world of Neuroscience to students of other fields.

The GondaThon drew 80 participants, who discussed and developed potential apps and technological solutions to problems provided by the Bar Ilan faculty. The teams were judged and 3 teams won awards.

During the GondaThon, participants collaborated with some of the finest neuroscientists both those in the center and from throughout the world, while enjoying cutting-edge technology and full creative freedom.

How Was It Done?

During the event, the teams were split into two main channels: one channel was teams working on a project or a problem suggested by the Gonda Center researchers and working with the Gonda member on the project. The other channel was individual projects initiated by the team.

Gonda Center graduates acted as mentors and helped teams with issues within brain research.

In addition, leading computational brain research experts also attended the event and lectured on their field of expertise, including Professor Izhar Bar-Gad from the Bar Ilan Gonda Center, Professor Nathan Intrator from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science, and Sagol School of Neuroscience, Tel Aviv University and Dr. Doron Friedman of the IDC Sammy Ofer School of Communication.

Comments from participants showed enormous enthusiasm for what they felt was a challenging, and thought-provoking event. Such positive reactions suggest that this innovative way of problem solving will surely be implemented in the near future again.

Summarizing the GondaThon, Prof. Moshe Bar, Director of the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center stated: "It was a genuine privilege to attend.  There will be more. The event is a superb reminder of the goldmine of talent that we have beneath our wings and that we need to tap into. I urge everyone concerned to seek out the students in our BSc program, embrace them, teach them, learn from them, and keep them here.  They are waiting for you."

Story and images provided by Leslie and Susan Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center.