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Maureen Clerc has been awarded the Pierre Faurre* Prize by the French Academy of Sciences

Maureen Clerc, a researcher in the Athena project team at Inria, has been awarded the Pierre Faurre* Prize by the French Academy of Sciences in recognition of her work on the modelling and interpretation of electrical signals in the brain.

Modelling electrical activity in the brain

Maureen Clerc joined Inria in 2001. She became a member of the Robotvis team, subsequently renamed Odyssée, and worked with Olivier Faugeras on computer vision and cerebral imaging. An engineering graduate from the Ecole Polytechnique, she was awarded a post-graduate diploma (DEA) in Numerical Analysis by the University of Paris 6, enabling her to contribute skills and expertise in numerical computing to the work of the team. Today she is a member of the Athena project team, led by Rachid Deriche with the objective of exploring the central nervous system through computational imaging Techniques used by the team include Diffusion MRI, and magneto and electroencephalography (MEG and EEG).

EEG and MEG are non-invasive techniques that  measure electromagnetic signals on the surface of the head associated with some types of brain activity. A range of rigorous mathematical and numerical tools are needed in order to model, analyse and interpret this data. 

An important part of the research work undertaken by Maureen Clerc is the solution of  forward and inverse problems associated with EEG and MEG.

In particular, she has collaborated with Theodore Papadopoulo and Alexandre Gramfort in the creation of the OpenMEEG software package, used today throughout the international EEG and MEG community. This open source software addresses the forward  problem, predicting measurements from a knowledge of the sources, and provides an excellent compromise between the simplicity of the geometric description and the accuracy of the calculations. 

Reducing the noise levels affecting neural data.

The signals being analysed vary widely in their nature depending on the underlying neural activity. However, these signals are buried in significant background noise. This noise arises from a number of sources, including natural   mental activity by the subject, and the superposition of electrical fields from large neural populations. Work on spatial and temporal filtering techniques is therefore essential in order to preprocess brain activity signals. 

Maureen Clerc is also working in this field. The topic is similar to that of shape recognition, and her work seeks to identify common elements in the various datasets generated over a series of repeated experiments.

Writing by thought

Maureen Clerc has been working for several years on Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI). The aim of BCI is to process the electrical signals associated with brain activity, and to translate them directly into commands. The ANR CoAdapt project that she led between 2009 and 2014 sought to exploit the co-adaptation that exists between the user of a BCI and the system.

One notable application of this work has been the development of the ‘ P300 Speller’, a virtual keyboard based on the OpenViBE BCI software platform developed jointly by Inria and Inserm. A clinical study is currently in progress with a cohort of twenty patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the University Hospital (CHU) in Nice. These patients suffer from severe motor deficiencies, but have been able to communicate to a certain extent using the system.

Collaborative work

Maureen Clerc is working in collaboration with the Apics project team on the inverse problems, and also with other Inria teams, including Hybrid, Potioc and Neurosys, on Brain Computer Interfaces. The contribution of David Guiraud of Demar has been particularly valuable concerning translational research to the medical domain. 

“Inria researchers cover a wide range of specialties, and together, this enables them to share expertise across a wide area and to take a multi-disciplinary approach to a given research theme.” 

*A prize intended to recognise and encourage researchers aged under 45 in the European Union who have carried out significant work in the application of mathematics, computer science, automation and scientific computing to the life sciences.

Keywords: BCI MEEG Problème inverse EEG Neurosciences computationnelles Projet CoAdapt Maureen Clerc Athena