My research focuses on systems: neural and mechanical. I typically use computational and integrational methods to understand the relationship between the parts of the system. My neural systems research is a collaborative effort to put the lamprey back together again - that is, to use mathematical, physiological, behavioral, and biomechanical studies to understand how neural output is integrated with the properties and forces of the muscle, body and water to generate realistic swimming movement. The methods have recently expanded to include visualization of the internal structures of the animal using the Advanced Photon Source at the Argonne National Laboratory.
Avis Cohen received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1977 after bearing two sons. She held post-doctoral positions at the Carolinska Institute in Sweden, and Washington University in St. Louis before returning to Cornell University where she had her own laboratory studying the organization of the lamprey spinal cord. At Cornell she began a collaboration with mathematicians which continues today. It was in this collaboration that she and her colleagues developed groundbreaking theoretical treatments of systems of coupled non-linear oscillators. At Cornell she also began exploring the process of spinal cord regeneration in lampreys.
Dr. Cohen joined the University of Maryland, Department of Biology (then Zoology) in 1990. Over the next eight years she established and directed the Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, an interdisciplinary graduate program that combines training in cognitive and computational methods with traditional neuroscience, making this one of the few such programs in the country. During these years, Dr. Cohen also began working with the Telluride Workshop in Neuromorphic Engineering. She is presently one of the directors and co-PI on the NSF grant funding this innovative program. She is also the PI, with Dr. Shihab Shamma the co-PI, on a new proposal to set up a virtual institute, the Institute for Neuromorphic Engineering, or INE, to support the work of the group year round.
Presently, Dr. Cohen is working in collaboration with Dr. Etienne-Cummings, Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Anthony Lewis, president of Iguana Robotics, on a robot controller for legged robots that they hope to parlay into a spinal cord prosthetic device for spinal cord injury patients. This work is a continuation of her experimental studies of spinal control locomotion in lampreys with and without spinal cord injuries. This work has mainly been supported by NIH and the Christopher Reeve Foundation, and is published in mainstream neuroscience research journals.
Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science
Laboratory for Neural Control of Locomotion
Computational Sensorimotor Systems Laboratory
Telluride Workshop on Neuromorphic Engineering