Paul Sajda

Paul Sajda is Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Radiology (Physics) at Columbia University. He is also a Member of Columbia’s Data Science Institute. Sajda is interested in what happens in our brains when we make a rapid decision and, conversely, what processes and representations in our brains drive our underlying preferences and choices, particularly when we are under time pressure. His work in understanding the basic principles of rapid decision-making in the human brain relies on measuring human subject behavior simultaneously with cognitive and physiological state. Important in his approach is his use of machine learning and data analytics to fuse these measurements for predicting behavior and infer brain responses to stimuli. Sajda applies the basic principles he uncovers to construct real-time brain-computer interfaces that are aimed at improving interactions between humans and machines. He is also applying his methodology to understand how deficits in rapid decision-making may underlie and be diagnostic of many types of psychiatric diseases and mental illnesses.

Of particular interest to Sajda is how different areas in the human brain interact to change our arousal state and modulate our decision-making. Specifically, he is using simultaneous EEG and fMRI together with pupillometry to identify and track spatiotemporal interactions between the anterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and subcortical nuclei such as the locus coeruleus. He has found that the dynamics of these interactions are altered under stress, particularly when dealing with high-pressure decisions with critical performance boundaries. These findings are being transitioned to applications ranging from tracking pilot cognitive state while operating fighter aircraft to identifying biomarkers of healthy thought patterns in patients being treated for major depressive disorder and/or complicated grief. Sajda is a co-founder of several neurotechnology companies and works closely with a range of scientists and engineers, including neuroscientists, psychologists, computer scientists, and clinicians. 

Sajda received a BS in electrical engineering from MIT in 1989 and an MSE and Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, in 1992 and 1994, respectively. He is a fellow of the IEEE, AMBIE, and AAAS. He is also the Chair of the IEEE Brain Initiative.

Paul Sajda is a member of the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience Advisory Committee and a former faculty mentor of Andrew Goldman (2015-18).