Delaware's first brain mapping machine installed at UD
University of Delaware Cognitive psychologist James Hoffman wants to know what’s happening in your brain while you’re multitasking.
“So for example, if you’re driving down the road, you’re trying to keep track of a couple cars that are in nearby lanes and you might also be trying to monitor your kids in the backseat. Somehow your brain is able to keep track of these objects simultaneously," said Hoffman.
Scientists like him have some idea what parts of the brain are involved, but there hasn’t been many studies that use brain imaging to understand how we can track multiple things at once.
Enter the University of Delaware’s new $10 million Center for Biomedical and Brain Imaging. Part of the reason it’s so expensive is that it’s home to a MRI machine.
It’s like the big tunnel machines you see in hospitals that allow doctors to see what’s going on in your body. Except at UD, it’s capable of fMRI--"f" standing for functional because scientists will be able to scan your brain and see what parts are functioning while you’re performing a task.
The machine, which is powered by a huge 14-ton magnet, does this by tracking where blood flows.
If Professor Hoffman wants to see what it looks like when you’re trying to keep tabs on multiple things at once, he can use the fMRI to look at a map of your brain and see what lobes light up.
Before now, psychologists and neuroscientists had to leave the state of Delaware to access an fMRI or rely on animal models to do their work, so it’s a big deal for the state’s academic community.
“It’s the only one of its kind that I know of in Delaware that is dedicated to research," said Hoffman. "Most hospitals are MRI only. Generally, they don’t do these fMRI aspect of things. So it’s kind of a unique thing to have in Delaware.”
Hoffman says he can use it to study the brains of certain kinds of people who likely are good at multitasking.
“I would expect, for example, that people who do things like fly fighter jets who have to keep track of a lot of visual things in their environment are likely pretty good at it," said Hoffman.
With the new MRI machine, he might be able to find out if this skill can be honed by training, is genetic or some interesting combination of both.