Dr. Jont Allen: An Industry Veteran and Education Innovator

Written by: Joseph Jefrin

Dr. Jont Allen is an accomplished electrical engineer and a neurotechnology industry veteran. He started his career in 1970 as an electrical engineer in the Acoustics Research Department at AT&T Bell Labs (after 1998, AT&T Labs). There he developed an interest in the signal processing of sound, cochlear function, and speech perception. At Bell Labs, he wrote many journal publications on hearing, cochlear modeling, signal processing, room acoustics, speech perception, and the articulation index. It was also there that he led the development of the first commercial multiband wideband dynamic range compression (WDRC) hearing aid (ReSound).

Professor Jont Allen — University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

In 2003, Dr. Allen left Bell Labs and became part of the Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty at the University of Illinois — Urbana Champaign to focus more on speech perception. Over the past few years, he has written “An introduction to mathematical physics and its history,” published last year by Springer. Currently, he is teaching a course, ECE 498 NS, aimed at providing an overview of the working of the human brain through an engineering perspective. According to Dr. Allen, not many courses provide this perspective for students in this emerging field. This course was previously taught at the graduate level but has now been restructured to allow undergraduate students to enroll as well.

Dr. Allen hopes that his new course will break the barrier separating neuroscience into a technical and biological science, and merge the two views into one. This course will provide students with a unique lens to explore the human brain thus will prove crucial in the emerging field of neuroengineering.

ECE 498 NS COURSE OVERVIEW

ECE 498 NS, Neural circuits and Systems, is a course designed to offer a fresh outlook on biological science, and more specifically, a contemporary understanding of the human brain. This course offers students the opportunity to understand the human mind from a mathematical framework, something not taught in the traditional neuroscience curriculum. The course is unique in how it calls upon both the life and engineering sciences and is specifically tailored to those interested in exploring neurotechnology and neuroengineering.

The class explores the working of the human brain through a mathematical and biological context. For instance, through a biological lens, students will encounter topics such as Orexon and its impacts on weight gain/loss and caffeine addiction. But at the same time, students will also learn about the capacitance and conductance of neurons, while exploring the Hodgkin-Huxley neural model of spike propagation, formulated using an alternative two diode electrical circuit model.

Students will be taught the science of the Nernst, Plank, and Einstein relations to further understand the physiological workings of the brain and nervous system. The course also discusses technical concepts of neural engineering, such as machine learning, neural implants, and neural logic processing.

The primary text for the class is Neuroscience: A Mathematical Primer (Scott, 2002) and as a 400 level course, it can be used as credit for graduate students. The course provides supplemental readings to further enhance understanding of the material. The prerequisites for this course are any form of differential equations such as MATH 384, MATH 385, or MATH 386.

Dr. Allen’s experiences at AT&T Bell Labs and developing the first commercial multiband compression hearing-aid (ReSound) have instilled upon him a passion to use his knowledge of neuroengineering to create new opportunities for students at UIUC. This is why he developed the course ECE 498 NS which offers students a unique experience in learning about the brain by blending a traditional neuroscience curriculum with a technical mindset.

For more information on Professor Jont Allen and the course please visit his personal website.

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