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Professor Xilin Liu (ECE) advances the technologies of integrated circuits and machine learning to help modulate brain networks for applications in health care, such as relieving or suppressing neurological disorders and conditions. (Photo: Jaxson Batter)

Professor Xilin Liu recently joined The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE).

Liu received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining ECE, he worked at Qualcomm Inc. on the research and development of a series of cutting-edge integrated circuit products for high-volume production.

ECE’s Jessica MacInnis reached out to Liu to learn about his research, what drives his teaching philosophy and why he thinks that integrated circuits may help unlock some of the greatest mysteries of the human brain.

What is the focus of your research?

My research develops silicon-based integrated circuits, such as the processors and sensors that are commonly used in our mobile phones, computers and other daily electronic devices.

Nowadays, we can design and fabricate integrated circuits that are amazingly small yet powerful tools for exploring the unknowns in science. I am particularly interested in exploring our brains. By developing miniature chips that are implantable or wearable, we can now monitor neural signals in an unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution, which helps us better understand many mysterious mechanisms behind our brain functions.

More importantly, by precisely modulating the brain networks with the help of artificial intelligence, integrated circuit chips can potentially relieve or suppress neurological disorders and conditions, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and so on.

My current research focuses on advancing the technologies of integrated circuits and machine learning to enable these clinical applications.

What excites you about this research?

Interfacing brains with machines is among the most thrilling research advancements in our era. I am particularly excited about the clinical translation of my research, which could potentially help millions of individuals globally.

We live in a transformative time. Technologies make major differences in many aspects of our lives, but the enhancement of human health conditions is always a priority. I’m happy that some of my previous efforts are already in preclinical and clinical trials. I’m eager to work with the faculty at U of T as well as CRANIA and the KITE Research Institute at the UHN Toronto Rehabilitation Institute to speed up the translational process.

Why did you choose ECE at U of T?

There are many compelling reasons to join U of T, but the most important for me is the people. Every faculty member is brilliant, and every staff member I’ve met has been kind and supportive. Also, the talent level of the students here is comparable to any top university worldwide. I believe the overall excellence and the inclusive and diverse academic environment will continuously attract top talent here. I’m honoured and privileged to be a part of it.

Are there any collaborations or interdisciplinary work that you are looking forward to pursuing?

By nature, brain-machine interfaces is a collaborative and interdisciplinary field, and U of T is renowned for encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration — so my research is a perfect fit.

In my future research, I aim to bridge the areas of microelectronics, machine learning, biomedical engineering, material science as well as clinical practice.

Working with my colleagues at U of T and the hospitals, I hope to produce high-impact research outcomes. In addition, I look to maintain strong connections with industry, facilitating technology translation and incubating entrepreneurship.

Beyond that, I believe the collaborative work itself will inspire and uncover opportunities that I’ll be excited to pursue.

What advice would you share with students?

You may easily get overwhelmed by all the possibilities and opportunities when you step into university — and that’s OK.

I changed my research area several times before I found the one that truly motivates me. I worked in industry for a few years before I decided to move back to academia. But all the knowledge and research experience that I gained along the way gave me the unique vision and quality to lead my current research program.

Never be afraid of trying something new. All your hard work is going to pay off down the road.

What is a fun fact about yourself?

Since I now use a mobile phone with my own patented chip design in it, I can no longer complain about bad signal reception!

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