Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences MIT, US
Pawan Sinha is a professor of computational and visual neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Using a combination of experimental and computational modeling techniques, research in Pawan’s laboratory focuses on understanding how the human brain learns to recognize objects through visual experience and how objects are encoded in memory. Pawan’s experimental work on these issues involves studying healthy individuals and also those with neurological disorders such as autism. Pawan founded Project Prakash with the twin goals of providing sight- restoring surgeries to blind children with disabilities and also understanding mechanisms of learning and plasticity in the brain. Pawan is a recipient of the PECASE – the highest US Government award for young scientists, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in Neuroscience, the John Merck Scholars Award for research on developmental disorders, the Troland Award from the National Academies, and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from IIT Delhi. Pawan was named a Global Indus Technovator, and was also inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world’s smallest reproduction of a printed book.
The hope inherent in pursuing basic research is that sometime in the future the work will prove beneficial to society. This fruition can often take many years. However, in some instances, even the conduct of basic research can yield tangible societal benefits. I shall describe an effort that perhaps fits in this category. Named ‘Project Prakash’, this initiative provides sight to blind children on the one hand and helps address questions regarding brain plasticity and learning on the other. Through a combination of behavioral and brain-imaging studies, the effort has provided evidence of visual learning late in childhood and has illuminated some of the processes that might underlie such learning.