As a computational neuroscientist, Pitkow’s research consists of developing theories of the computational function of neural networks, with the goal of explaining how humans use uncertain sensory information to construct coherent perceptions of the world.
Pitkow’s research explores the hypothesis that the brain exploits prior knowledge about the world and the structure of its own sensory representations to select the most probable interpretations of new sense data from a multitude of improbable ones.
His research proceeds by mathematizing perceptual tasks and useful strategies for performing them, and then deducing key predictions about behavior and neural mechanisms. These predictions identify properties of behavior or circuit function that are essential for the computational model to work correctly. As a theorist, he collaborates with experimentalists to test these predictions in animal brains.
Pitkow’s research is focused primarily on vision and how the brain transforms low-level visual features like oriented edges into higher-level representations of object properties. This work will have broader implication on other sensory systems, how neural representations are learned and transformed, and whether those representations are efficient in a quantifiable sense.
Pitkow joined BCM in 2013 and holds a joint appointment at Rice University as an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. He earned his Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University after completing his bachelor of arts degree in physics from Princeton University. He completed postdoctoral research fellowships at Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Neuroscience and at the University of Rochester in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. While at Harvard he was also a teaching fellow.
He has published his research in numerous scientific journals and has been an invited guest lecturer at university events.
Zong and Pitkow join the other six McNair Scholars announced since the program's first recruit in 2010, Dr. Ben Arenkiel. He was followed by Dr. Xiang Zhang, Dr. Jake Kushner, Dr. Melissa Bondy, Dr. Malgorzata Borowiak and Dr. Russel Ray.