Nik Josafatow wants to be at the forefront of scientific discovery, and he is doing so this summer. Working with Dr. Masami Tatsuno and graduate student Seth Campbell, Nik is analyzing how manipulating the activity of a sleeping brain may promote memory recall.

Prior electrophysiological research on the subject shows that the sleeping brain reactivates the neural activity it experiences while awake; a phenomenon known as memory reactivation. It is hypothesized that through the manipulation of this activity, memory consolidation may be improved. Techniques for manipulation of brain activity include mild electrical stimulation and targeted memory reactivation.

Nik says studies that have shown promising results using these techniques have not yet been reproduced, a discrepancy that might be due to the interaction strength between the hippocampus and cortex, instrumental brain regions for memory. He notes that if electrical stimulation or targeted memory reactivation can induce a strong interaction between the hippocampus and the cortex, memory consolidation is strengthened.

Despite great advancements in recent years, many aspects of the brain remain elusive. I want to be at the forefront of discovery, and this is precisely the opportunity that Dr. Tatsuno has provided. Becoming involved in his research has allowed me to partake in gaining insight into key questions which have never been answered; namely, how and when procedural memories are consolidated during sleep, and whether or not we can improve procedural memory retention. Not only was I drawn to the research project itself, but the skills I will learn will be transferable to future research projects.

Nik’s role in the research is to analyze previously collected data from rodents, investigating the interactions between the hippocampus and the cortex using signal processing and machine learning methods. Nik says his research experience has enriched his education in many ways—from refining skills in data analysis and programming to gaining hands-on experience with research equipment and labs.

The benefits have not only been skill based; I have made many valuable connections with peers, graduate students, and faculty members. These relationships enrich my overall university experience and will be of benefit when pursuing Honours programs, higher education, and career development.

With support from an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award, Nik is becoming well-equipped with many desirable skills in the neuroscience field, such as computational skills and programming skills, as well as deepening his understanding of electrophysiological signals and using electrophysiological equipment.

Nik says his advice to other students interested in becoming involved in research is to just do it, as the experience is invaluable.

“Don't be shy to reach out to faculty members and let them know you are interested in getting involved in their research - you can even pitch research ideas of your own! Put yourself out there and you will find the right fit.”