I am an applied mathematician who uses methods from mathematics and computing to study the operating mechanisms of living systems. Specifically, I develop and analyze mathematical theory and models of synaptic transmission as well as models of bio-fluid/biomechanical systems with the aim to understand the spatial and temporal dynamics of synaptic transmission and to understand how synaptic dynamics together with neuronal network topology combine to produce robust coordinated activities that underlie human and animal locomotion. I am also interested in various aspects of applied mathematics and computing itself.
Note: I started publishing under the name "Calvin Zhang" since 2013. Before 2013, I published under "Jiawei Zhang".
Synaptic Transmission: Noise is not only a source of disturbance, but it also can be beneficial for neuronal information processing. The release of neurotransmitter vesicles in synapses is an unreliable process, especially in the central nervous system. Recently, we showed that the probabilistic nature of neurotransmitter release directly influences the functional role of a synapse, and that a small probability of release per docked vesicle helps reduce the error in the reconstruction of desired signals from the time series of vesicle release events. Link to our paper.
Neuronal Control of Locomotion: Despite the general belief that neural circuits have evolved to optimize behavior, few studies have clearly identified the neural mechanisms underlying optimal behavior. The distinct limb coordination in crustacean swimming and the relative simplicity of the neural coordinating circuit have allowed us to show that the interlimb coordination in crustacean swimming is biomechanically optimal and how the structure of underlying neural circuit robustly gives rise to this coordination. Thus, we provided a concrete example of how an optimal behavior arises from the anatomical structure of a neural circuit. Furthermore, our results suggested that the connectivity of the neural circuit underlying limb coordination during crustacean swimming may be a consequence of natural selection in favor of more effective and efficient swimming. Link to our paper.