My research focuses on systems: neural and genomic. I typically use computational and integrational methods to understand the relationship between the parts of the system. My neural systems research is a collaborative effort to put the lamprey back together again - that is, to use mathematical, physiological, behavioral, and biomechanical studies to understand how neural output is integrated with the properties and forces of the muscle, body and water to generate realistic swimming movement. In genomics, my focus is currently immune proteins of the sea urchin.
Avis Cohen received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1977 after bearing two sons. She held post-doctoral positions at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and Washington University in St. Louis before returning to Cornell University where she had her own laboratory studying the organization of the lamprey spinal cord. At Cornell she began a collaboration with mathematicians which continues today. It was in this collaboration that she and her colleagues developed groundbreaking theoretical treatments of systems of coupled non-linear oscillators. At Cornell she also began exploring the process of spinal cord regeneration in lampreys.
Dr. Cohen joined the University of Maryland, Department of Biology (then Zoology) in 1990 and retired with emerita status in 2014. Over the next eight years she established and directed the Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, an interdisciplinary graduate program that combines training in cognitive and computational methods with traditional neuroscience, making this one of the few such programs in the country. During these years, Dr. Cohen also began working with the Telluride Workshop in Neuromorphic Engineering. She was one of the directors and co-PI on the NSF grant funding this innovative program.
Dr. Cohen worked in collaboration with Dr. Etienne-Cummings, Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Anthony Lewis, president of Iguana Robotics, on a robot controller for legged robots that could parlay into a spinal cord prosthetic device for spinal cord injury patients. She now continues her experimental studies of spinal control locomotion in lampreys with spinal cord injuries by working with a physicist and bioengineers to examine the structure of the injury site and the role the tissues may play in recovery or obstruction of function.
Honors and Awards
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2008
University of Maryland Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award, 2011