The Department of Biomedical Engineering’s newest faculty member is pioneering new, brain-aware wearables

close up of face wearing eye gear

Brain-aware wearables

MINDWATCH. While it may sound like an exciting hit show on Netflix, it’s actually an acronym for a project from Associate Professor Rose Faghih, a new member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. It stands for Multimodal Intelligent Noninvasive brain state Decoder for Wearable AdapTive Closed-loop arcHitectures, which she has likened to “a navigation system for the brain.”

Rose Faghih
Associate Professor Rose Faghih

"It overcomes the barriers to achieving brain-aware wearables by pioneering a transformative system-theoretic computational toolset for noninvasive closed-loop wearable architectures that monitor and modulate brain function without needing neural recordings," Faghih has explained, meaning that a simple, smart watch-type device could, in effect, perform the functions of an expensive and intrusive electroencephalogram, which requires attaching electrodes to the scalp and which is limited to clinical settings.

The signal processing and control algorithms she has developed will allow the device to monitor such physiological signals as respiration rate, pulse, and sweat level, and provide information on stress, engagement (or boredom, on the other hand), and cognitive learning.

There are varied applications for the project — which garnered Faghih a prestigious 2020 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. Imagine, she says, an online class that requires a student to stare at a screen for a long period of time; if a device could track if and when they become disengaged with the material, the class could be paused automatically to allow a quiz to be administered or some other method of refocusing attention used. An angry driver wearing a MINDWATCH-enabled device could be prompted to calm down. In the workplace, employees could be similarly monitored, and environmental conditions like lighting and room temperature adjusted to allow for improved mental state and performance. Faghih also sees enormous potential in the area of eldercare. “If an elderly person is home alone, and they become depressed or bored,” she says, “the algorithm will detect it in a smart home setting and then change the frequency or color of light or even begin playing music in the background in order to engage them.”

Faghih — the daughter of a professor of engineering and a faculty member in economics — was first introduced to biomedical research at Drexel University, where she participated in an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program and helped design sensors for breast cancer detection; the following year, she embarked upon a project that involved neuroscience at the University of Maryland and was hooked. Those seminal experiences convinced her of the impact that undergraduate research can have on a future career path, and at the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering, where she taught before coming to NYU Tandon, she mentored dozens of undergraduate students.  She also developed a graduate course there that invited students to solve a set research problem, with the aim of authoring a publishable paper or presenting at a conference.

Her devotion to her students has won Faghih a slew of teaching honors, and in addition to her CAREER Award, her other laurels include mention on the 2020 MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators under 35 list, designation as a “Woman to Watch” in IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine, a 2018 Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) Award from the NSF, and selection as the IEEE-USA’s 2016 New Face of Engineering and one of DiscoverE’s 12 New Faces of Engineering (an initiative of the National Society of Professional Engineers).

The Italian magazine Futuro Prossimo recently included her on a list of young, female researchers likely to win the Nobel Prize in the future. “They are too young to remember Chernobyl, and they didn't experience the fall of the Berlin Wall, but they will be the ones to change the world,” the publication asserted. In the meantime, however, Faghih is a welcome addition to the Department of Biomedical Engineering and firmly poised to change the world of brain-function monitoring.