Federal funding provides UAlberta with first-in-Canada neuroscience equipment

New brain-imaging tool enables researchers to map brain activity and blood flow like never before.


Using lasers and photodetectors, a new optical brain-imaging tool is providing a never-before-seen look inside your head.

The non-invasive tool, called the Imagent, measures the rate at which infrared light moves through the brain to paint a picture of brain activity and blood flow at the same time—something that was impossible until now.

“This optical imaging system provides images of rapid changes in brain activity, solving many unanswered questions about how our brains function from moment to moment,” said UAlberta neuroscientist Kyle Mathewson. “The system is genuinely cutting edge. Our lab at the University of Alberta will have one of only a few in the world and first of its kind in Canada.”

The tool comes to the U of A as the result of funding for Mathewson from the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) initiative. The equipment will be housed in the new Shared Cognitive Neuroscience lab in the Faculty of Science.

Invaluable implications

Mathewson, who works out of the Faculty of Science’ department of psychology and is an affiliate of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, studies how the brain focuses on and filters out different information. His research has implications from job training and professional development to creating smarter artificial intelligence.

“We want to measure a person’s state of attention from moment to moment,” he said. “For instance, we could pinpoint the moment when a driver stops paying attention to the road, or determine practices to help students learn better and more efficiently. This tool will allow us unprecedented views of the brain networks that give rise to these and other important behaviours.”

The implications, Mathewson explained, are huge.

“This optical imaging system helps to put the UAlberta cognitive neuroscience program even more firmly on the map,” he said. “Securing this tool widens the scope of potential research and is already attracting interest from students and scientists around the world.”

At the grant announcement last week, Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s minister of science, shared a similar sentiment.

“Our scientists need the best tools and equipment for ground-breaking research and discovery and we are committed to ensuring they have them. Their successes will lead to an improved economy and will fuel an active research community here in Canada and internationally,” she said.

Ahmed Qureshi, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, also a grant from JELF for his project titled “Design for additive Manufacturing: Developing assembly and lifecycle models for Additive Manufacturing processes.”