Researcher Uses Mathematics to Answer Questions about the Inner Workings of the Brain
Leonid Rubchinsk, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Mathematical Sciences, School of Science at IUPUI
Stark Neuroscience Research Institute, Indiana University School of Medicine
It’s not second nature to relate mathematical science to Parkinson’s Disease, but for School of Science Associate Professor Leonid Rubchinsky, the two have shaped his career.
For the past several years, Rubchinsky has collaborated with Neurosurgery professor Robert Worth in the IU School of Medicine to conduct fundamental research, using mathematics to help answer questions about the inner workings of the brain. In the case of Parkinson’s Disease, Rubchinsky’s work — although a precursor to any clinical application — aims to determine why brain cells aren’t able to communicate in a normal manner.
“I view my research as a way to gain a better understanding of how neural cells communicate with each other and how this communication translates into our behavior — the way we think, the way we understand the world, the way we create things and do things,” explains Rubchinsky. “Using differential equations, nonlinear dynamics, numerical analysis, time-series analysis, and other mathematical theories and methods, my work helps put clinical observations into a coherent framework so we can explain why brain cells aren’t acting the way they should.”
Rubchinsky, who holds a master’s degree and doctorate degree in physics, first became interested in biological applications while in college. His post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California Davis focused on clinical neurophysiology in a lab where there was extensive collaboration between clinicians and mathematicians. The experience sparked an interest in interdisciplinary biomedical research, which for Rubchnisky, continues today. In fact, IUPUI’s collaborative environment was one of the reasons the Russian native chose to join the School of Science faculty in 2004.
With no formal educational path for the work Rubchinsky conducts through his joint assignment with the School of Science and the Indiana University School of Medicine, his expertise is highly unique and noteworthy. Rubchinsky is one of the few mathematicians in the nation to receive a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for his research. The $728,749 award is part of the NIH’s Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience program, which recognizes theorists whose collaborations with clinicians help explain how the brain works and treat brain disorders.
“When you research very fundamental science, it’s important to answer philosophical questions, but it’s also even better to see where you can make a more practical difference, such as improving the quality of life for people with diseases like Parkinson’s.”