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Xavier Perez

student researcher_presenting


Hi, I'm Xavier!

I'm a senior in Muir College pursuing an Electrical Engineering degree with a minor in Mathematics


Program Participation



Area of Research

My Electrical Engineering background and my passion for research endorsed me to join, as a UC LEADS Scholar, Dr. Vikash Gilja’s Translational Neuroengineering Lab (TNEL) at UC San Diego. Here I have been an undergraduate researcher for almost two years under the guidance of my amazing graduate mentor Pablo Tostado. My lab seeks to develop a neurally-driven speech prosthesis device. To do so, we work with animal models for vocal production. Specifically, the project involves recording neural activity from the sensorimotor nucleus HVC in Zebra Finch and Starling songbirds and leveraging it to infer their song intent. The overall goal is to study and understand the dynamics of the neural activity while birds sing aiming to find correlations between the neural recordings and the production of song. Being able to infer song intent from neural activity will have a great impact in the way we understand how the brain plans and executes speech in humans and will bring us one step closer to the development of a natural, robust speech prosthesis that will aim to restore the ability to communicate for patients that suffer from neurodegenerative diseases, brain injury or locked-in syndrome. Furthermore, this work contributes to the development of medical systems referred to as brain-machine interfaces (BMIs)


This video exemplifies my work which focuses on building and developing effective methods for capturing freely occurring birdsong. I have done this by building a low-cost system of home-made recording chambers using isolated coolers that reduces the existing recording set up cost by 10x. With this low-cost system, I can obtain high signal-to-noise ratio, high quality recordings utilizing 8 PDM MEMS microphone arrays. This array of microphones allows us to direct virtual sound beams that will detect the real time position of the source of sound. I apply digital signal processing algorithms to signals recorded from the microphone array. By doing this we filter out undesired noise and record only the one source of interest: the vocalizations of the bird. Moreover, I am working on a livestream of a female bird to a screen in each of the coolers of the male birds as shown in the video. This will increase male bird stimulation and in exchange increase song production



Why did you decide to get involved in undergraduate research?

My past experiences laid the foundation for me to get involved in campus organizations. I have had the opportunity to be involved in campus outreach and professional development events through several organizations. I have been able to volunteer as a tutor, interpreter, and mentor of other students and adults in Spanish, English, Math, and Engineering courses. In exchange, this led to the most influential engineering experience I have had. I have developed and translated an engineering course curriculum in full to teach engineering concepts to younger students in Tijuana, Mexico working alongside the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Experiencing the kids' excitement as I introduced engineering to them for the first time highly contributed to my motivation to pursue research and a postgraduate education. Consequently, I decided to apply to the highly selective UC LEADS program which accepts 5 students out of the entire sophomore class. I was given the opportunity to join the program and was provided funding to do research through the STARS program.



 What are your future plans?

I am ready and fully committed to pursuing my doctoral studies. When I see engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science I only see excitement. I am fully aware of the critical, life-long learning skills an engineer is trained with: problem solving abilities, teamwork, creativity, and critical thinking just to mention some. After a long journey to study Electrical Engineering, I dream of turning some of my engineering ideas into real-world, self-sufficient commonwealth solutions. I aspire to continue delving into the fascinating world of science and pursue a PhD in Electrical Engineering. My journey in academia as a student and as an undergraduate researcher have provided me with a strong foundation in engineering. I am confident that pursuing a graduate degree will open many more doors to achieve my long-range professional goals of becoming a professor or engineer at NASA.

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