MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sergiy Yakovenko, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise physiology and neuroscience at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, spent the last two weeks of the summer recess in Kiev, Ukraine, teaching at an international scientific summer school.

This summer marked the ninth year for the Achievements and Applications of Contemporary Informatics, Mathematics, and Physics International Summer School. The event, held at the National Technical University of Ukraine Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI), took place August 1-15. The school was started by the Student Science Association in 2005 as a science camp taught primarily by local faculty that then grew into an international gathering for students from undergraduate to post-doctoral levels.

“It was so amazing to see lots of people with a graduate-level interest in science who prefer to be in a classroom and doing workshops instead of going to the sea and enjoying themselves in the sun,” Dr. Yakovenko said.

This was Yakovenko’s second year with the summer school. This year, he was invited to deliver the plenary address to the students, faculty, and several dignitaries. He spoke enthusiastically about recent breakthroughs in neuroscience and the glowing future he saw for the field.

“From my perspective, neuroscience is the most exciting science right now on this planet. Back in the 60s, the exploration of space was our most amazing endeavor of humanity. You had investments from the governments. People were inspired by the exploration of space. It created the science and technology of today,” Yakovenko said.

“Today, neuroscience is the new space exploration. It’s the exploration of the brain, the mind. We are creating Luke Skywalker arms; we’re developing substitutes for parts of the brain that are damaged by stroke and spinal cord injury. There’s just nothing more exciting than this.”

The school is divided into four research streams. Yakovenko co-directed the neuroscience stream with Gennady S. Cymbalyuk, Ph.D., from Georgia State University, who connected Yakovenko to the summer school last year. The course focused on how the brain controls movement. It is based on a multidisciplinary course called “Computational Motor Control” that Yakovenko is introducing at WVU this semester.

Students sat for lectures then immediately applied what they learned, working in groups to create innovative projects using the tools and models provided by the instructors. The top project was a passive walking device. The group modified an existing walking device to be controlled by a pattern generator then created an algorithm for the machine to use to stabilize itself.

The summer school in Kiev, near the center of Ukraine, was largely unaffected by the present political unrest in the eastern part of the country, though it was inevitably a factor.

“Kiev feels very safe. It’s a beautiful city with a wonderful river going through it, lots of very cool live jazz joints, lots of friendly people,” Yakovenko said. “But lots of our friends are involved helping soldiers, or some of them are soldiers now. For example, one of the professors was delayed because he was in Dnipropetrovsk providing medical supplies to the soldiers that were wounded.”

Nevertheless, organizers and faculty are eagerly planning for the school’s 10th session. Next year, Yakovenko hopes to bring students from WVU to the summer school.

Yakovenko is helping to facilitate a memorandum of understanding establishing a long-term collaboration between WVU and KPI as part of the School of Medicine’s growing international presence. The collaboration would include exchanging students between the institutions and allowing WVU students to receive course credit for participating in the summer school.

“I think it will be an incredible experience for our WVU students to take part in something like this,” he said. “It shows the quality of international students as well as showing the quality of our students at WVU.”

For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
sf: 08-28-14