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Advancing fNIRS Science in Hong Kong

July 16, 2015

Professor Petitto (shown top photo left, The Sin Wai-Kin Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Hong Kong, and the Co-PI and Science Director of the NSF-Gallaudet Science of Learning Center, Visual Language and Visual Learning, VL2, Washington, D.C.), and her Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) doctoral students, Geo Kartheiser and Adam Stone (shown photos below) gave an intensive two-day workshop, Functional Near-Infrared Neuroimaging (fNIRS) Technology and Advances for Studies of the Science of Learning in June 2015 at the University of Hong Kong as part of their Science of Learning Strategic Research Team’s SummerFest Programme. Together, Petitto, Stone, and Kartheiser presented on the neurophysiological, neuroanatomical measurements, experimental paradigms, and data analysis techniques using the advanced functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). Mr. Stone and Mr. Kartheiser’s presence was made possible by a NSF supplemental grant written by Professor Petitto and awarded by the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Centers Program (Dr. Soo-Siang Lim, NSF Program Director and Chair of Coordinating Committee) and the Office of International Science and Engineering (Dr. Akaysha C. Tang, East Asia & Pacific Program Director).

Professor Petitto has been instrumental in supporting the University of Hong Kong’s efforts to create a Science of Learning Center, to design and build an advanced neuroimaging and behavioral experimental new HKU laboratory in the Science of Learning/Educational Neuroscience, and for advancing USA national priority efforts in promoting international collaborative scientific exchanges between the United States and China.

The workshop was attended by approximately 30 HKU faculty members and graduate students and focused on one of the world’s most advanced neuroimaging technologies for the study of human higher cognition, called functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) — a neuroimaging technology that is especially optimal for the study of learning in babies, children, and adults across a wide variety of learning and social contexts (both in and out of the formal laboratory).

In Day 1, the Workshop began with a brief comparative review of contemporary neuroimaging technologies, the neurophysiological principles of measurement on which each neuroimaging technology operates, and the powerful relationship between the different types of neuroimaging systems and the range of questions that they can – and cannot – answer. Participants learned about fNIRS brain imaging principles, contemporary investigations using fNIRS, experimental design (block vs. event) and exciting new advances that involve fNIRS experimental designs that are yoked to other technologies (e.g., eye-tracking, thermal infrared imaging, etc.), fNIRS neuroimaging data analyses and techniques and their relation to the world’s other neuroimaging analysis packages, and the ethical recruitment and treatment of participants and data in brain studies.

In Day 2, Workshop participants enjoyed a unique immersive hands-on introduction to the components of a real Hitachi ETG-4000 fNIRS neuroimaging system, and they observed a brief fNIRS adult study. The day included detailed information on the preparation of an fNIRS neuroimaging experiment (including room preparation), methods for digital spatial and channel localization, data exporting and post-processing, and safety and care of ETG-4000 technology.

The workshop also included a hands-on activity where participants divided into groups based on their research interests to develop fNIRS studies. In this activity, the participants identified specific overarching scientific questions and listed corresponding hypotheses, behavioral predictions, and neuroanatomical predictions. The groups then presented to each other about (1) how the neuroimaging study design would permit us to gain a type of understanding that wouldn’t be possible from analyzing behavioral data alone, (2) what type of discoveries may be yielded from the use of fNIRS that wouldn’t be possible from other technologies, and (3) how the discoveries may inform and advance science and society.

Adam Stone and Geo Kartheiser demonstrate fNIRS/ETG-4000 array and probe placement to HKU faculty and students.

Geo Kartheiser and Adam Stone present a slide discussing the capabilities of fMRI and fNIRS.

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