in Features
March 29th, 2019

Dr. David Somers was in Kathmandu, Nepal, just about to head off for an expedition as part of his world travels, when he received an unanticipated phone call. Several professors had tracked him down in order recruit him to work on a project in the new Cognitive and Neural Systems Program at BU.

It’s no wonder that BU faculty went through the trouble to find Dr. Somers, as he can be best described as a modern Renaissance man. When he is not teaching Cognitive Psychology or conducting robust research, Dr. Somers enjoys travelling, craft beer, and ultimate frisbee. Although he has several seemingly distinct passions and hobbies, they somehow intersect and visibly manifest in his career.  

During his early educational endeavors, Somers states that there was no designated undergraduate path in neuroscience. Therefore, he pursued a degree as a math major and a psychology minor at Harvey Mudd College with the hopes of studying artificial intelligence in the future. Although Dr. Somers has an affinity for mathematics and computer science, he reoriented his focus towards neuroscience. “Physical sciences have become so hypothetical and estranged, but I was drawn to neuroscience because it is so important, huge, fascinating, and attainable,” he states. More specifically, Dr. Somers is particularly interested in how neuroscience is evolving with the rise of new technologies, and cites the importance of “learning the new methodologies and applying it to older philosophical questions regarding the mind.”

Following his undergraduate tenure, Dr. Somers moved on to a fellowship at MIT’s Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences. There, he worked in a lab that specialized in rewiring neural circuitries in ferrets in order to restore sight. However, as a ethical vegetarian, he faced a moral quandary in utilizing animal models. He was then drawn to computational neuroscience to evade invasive animal work and transcend the limitations of animal models.

Around the same time, just one year before his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Somers witnessed the development of the fMRI machine and its nascent implementation in neuropsychological research. In alignment with his personal philosophy on keeping up with emerging technologies, Dr. Somers “went to grad school again to prepare, where [his] math background luckily transferred quite nicely.” When asked about the most surprising change he has observed in the field, Dr. Somers reflected upon the example of optogenetics, and likened its research atmosphere to that of the field upon the introduction of fMRI machines. He also reiterated the immense influence of technology on the constantly changing nature of neuroscience. “Keep learning new techniques–you may be doing your work in a field or methodology which doesn’t exist yet,” he states.

Currently, the excitement surrounding multimodal integration research inspires Dr. Somers, as hid lab specializes in investigating multisensory attention networks and visual science. He is interested in a multimodal approach in his laboratory, and seeks to explore how integration varies according to different types of stimuli. In his lab, he uses fMRI techniques to study the relationship between vision and attention, perception, and working memory. Dr. Somers also developed a five-finger glove for delivering tactile stimuli to further study sensory modalities.

As he reflects his exciting life as a BU faculty member, Dr. Somers is glad he received that coincidental phone call in Nepal. Even though he spends a lot of time shoveling snow, he still emphasizes his admiration for Boston. “My colleagues are hardworking and interesting people, and I enjoy my interactions with the students. They seem to be getting smarter and smarter, and increasingly passionate, which makes teaching here so fulfilling.”  For students interested in pursuing research, Dr. Somers offers two pieces of advice: “Find a question which you really love and care deeply about. Then learn the new methods and get after it.”

Writer: Safia Mirza

Editor: Brian Privett

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