Taiwan university, U.S. institute set up joint brain research lab

10/04/2019 08:08 PM
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photo courtesy of NTNU
photo courtesy of NTNU

Taipei, Oct. 4 (CNA) A joint laboratory established by National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) and U.S.-based Haskins Laboratories was inaugurated in Taipei Friday at an official sign unveiling ceremony, with scholars from the two sides set to work together on the learning mechanism in the brains of infants.

A delegation led by Kenneth Pugh, president and director of research at Haskins Laboratories, signed a memorandum of understanding with NTNU a day earlier on the establishment of the NTNU-Haskins Joint Laboratory of Brain Development and Learning.

At a press conference Friday, NTNU chair professor Ovid Tzeng (曾志朗), who has been a Haskins Laboratories board member since 2015, said that one of the institute's current focuses is the use of so-called fNIRS systems in the research of language and reading development in infants.

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a non-invasive optical imaging technique that measures changes in hemoglobin (Hb) concentrations within the brain by means of the characteristic absorption spectra of Hb in the near-infrared range.

Haskins Laboratories senior researcher Richard Aslin said at the press event that human learning capability peaks in infancy. He discovered years ago infants have the ability to extract rapidly hidden rules from information, Aslin said.

This ability is perfect for the learning of languages, he added.

Aslin is currently working with NTNU on a research project that uses Taiwanese babies at 6 months old as target subjects. It is aimed at studying the learning mechanism in the human brain as it relates to cross-sense stimulus links and prediction.

Initial research shows that 6-month-old infants can learn the connection between objects and sounds within less than one minute, according to Aslin, who described such babies as super powerful learning machines.

In the future the NTNU-Haskins joint laboratory will continue to explore the early physical signs of infants' cognitive ability and to determine methods that can help children who suffer from autism and language development disorders, he said.

Founded in 1935 and located in New Haven, Connecticut since 1970, Haskins Laboratories is a private, non-profit research institute with a primary focus on speech, language and reading, and their biological basis. It has long-standing, formal affiliations with the University of Connecticut and Yale University, according to NTNU.

The university introduced Pugh to the press as one of the scientists who initiated the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to the research of reading and reading disabilities. He has also undertaken much research in the areas of cognitive neurology and psycholinguistics, NTNU said.

Also on the visit to Taiwan with Pugh are Joseph Cardone, vice president of finance at Haskins Laboratories and Heikki Lyytinen, a professor at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and chair on Inclusive Literacy Learning for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

(By Chen Chih-chung and Elizabeth Hsu)


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