Pengfei Song wins NSF CAREER Award

2/23/2023 Illinois ECE

Under his NSF CAREER Award, Song's project will develop a new super-resolution brain imaging technology.

Written by Illinois ECE

Pengfei Song
Pengfei Song

ECE Assistant Professor Pengfei Song recently won a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation.

Under his award, Song, who is affiliated with the Beckman Institute, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and the Department of Bioengineering as well as ECE, aims to develop a new ultrasound imaging technology that can noninvasively probe deep-brain functional neural activities with micron-scale spatial resolution.

Song explains that today, neuroscientists studying the brain have stark options. Optical imaging techniques offer “phenomenal resolution, so you can see nanometer-scale objects,” even single neurons—but those techniques can penetrate only a fraction of a millimeter below the brain’s surface. On the other hand, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) “provide phenomenal coverage of the brain,” says Song. Indeed, it’s possible to image the entire brain. “But the resolution of those scanners is poor; we are talking about millimeters!”

As a result, researchers are limited to studying either very small structures in isolation, or global activity seen crudely.

“But what they really want to know is how this local activity is connected to the global activity. So they need some imaging tool to allow them to see these simultaneously. And this is where we come in,” says Song. “This super-resolution ultrasound imaging has this nice combination of deep imaging penetration and fine spatial resolution.”

Song’s group has already achieved good resolution and penetration; the main goals of the new project will be faster imaging and lower computational cost—which are needed to achieve the ultimate long-term vision: imaging of the brain’s neural activities on freely moving and behaving animals. The plan is to use high-performance computing and deep-learning approaches to process and analyze the collected imaging data far more efficiently.

Illinois ECE Assistant Professor Shaloo Rakheja also won a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation. Read more about her work here.

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This story was published February 23, 2023.