This is the third time the Arsula functional magnetic resonance imaging machine has arrived. Heather Kosakovsky, a doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience, hopes to get just two valuable minutes of data from her session. Although Ursula was hired to scan her brain for two hours, it was not safe at all. His first two sessions, reserved for two hours each, contained only eight minutes of usable material. The work limits the impossible. In order for Kosakovsky to stay awake, Ursula needs to look at the projected images of the face and the scene and very steadily ideally for a second or even a few minutes. Each blink and wiggle blurs the MRI scan, blurring the image and making it useless. Ursula, however, leans towards shaking and inevitably falls asleep, exactly what you would expect from a six-month-old baby.
Scanning their brains while children are awake is incredibly difficult and time consuming and there is always the risk that no session will generate any data. An inspired adult is able to stay perfectly still for two hours, creating images of the brain that read like an open book. Ursula sessions produce something more like books that have been torn and thrown into the river. Kosakovsky, who was a co-consultant with Cognitive Neuroscience professor Nancy Kanuisher ’60, Ph.D. ’86, and Rebecca Sax, Ph.D. ’03, had to carefully find usable sections and sew them together before reading their published story. “Heather is probably the most skilled person alive now to receive high-quality functional MRI data from human children,” said Walter A. Rosenblith, a professor of cognitive neuroscience.
If Kosakovsky doesn’t get the two minutes of brain imaging he needs, Ursula’s previous two visits may not be wasted. But if you can get a clear lesson from functional MRI, you’ll be one step closer to answering one of the deepest questions in modern neuroscience: What is the physical basis of the human mind? Kosakovsky is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. His childhood was marked by a kind of instability that made any kind of higher education unnecessary. His father was in the military, so his family moved a lot. Later, her parents divorced and the difficulties multiplied. When he was about seven years old, he and his mother moved into a homeless shelter, and at 11 a.m., Kosakovsky was placed in foster care in western Massachusetts.