Rama Ratnam


Senior Scientist

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Coordinated Science Laboratory,

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

1308 West Main Street,

Urbana, IL 61801, USA.



123 Coordinated Science Laboratory,

1308 W. Main Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

(217) 300-6203

Email: ratnam [at] illinois [dot] edu



Animal neurophysiology: 2524 Beckman Institute.

Human neurophysiology: B18 Coordinated Science Laboratory. 




Coordinated Science Laboratory

Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology

The Neuroscience Program


Education and training


B. Tech., Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, 1985.

Ph.D., Biophysics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, 1998.

Post-doctoral research associate, Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology, and the Beckman Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1998-2001.

Research Scientist, The Intelligent Hearing Aid Project, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001-2004.




Some details on my academic background, work experience, and a brief digression into my academic lineage can be found in this link [Biosketch].


Research interests


Neurophysiology, biophysics, theoretical and computational neuroscience, sensory physiology, animal behavior, and neural engineering.


More specifically, 1) determining the coding of a sensory stimulus by single-neurons using in vivo electrophysiology, theory, and computations, 2) determining biophysical mechanisms and models of single-neuron coding, and 3) the use of optimal neural codes for speech vocoding in cochlear implants.


The model systems I work with are the auditory system of the gerbil and the electrosensory system of weakly electric fish.


I have an active interest in vocal communication behavior, particularly in songbirds, and in anurans (frogs and toads) where I study male-male vocal interactions in dense choruses using a microphone array. I also use EEG and EMG recordings for understanding auditory perception, and for extracting soft biometrics in workflow processes (for e.g., fatigue, boredom, etc). In recent years I have developed an interest in human body motion capture using depth-sensing cameras for calculating inverse dynamics. I hope that this will lead to understanding neuromuscular and sensorimotor control, and proprioceptive feedback in posture and movement.


For more details, see "Interests" below.


Research projects


1.       Optimal sound coding in the auditory nerve of the anesthetized gerbil.

2.       Biophysical, conductance-based models of stimulus coding in single-neurons, constrained by experimental data.

3.       Theoretical development of optimal neural coding as source coding.

4.       Speech vocoding for cochlear implants using a timing-based optimal neural code.

5.       EEG and EMG analysis for capturing soft biometrics in workflow processes.

5.       Determining human body dynamics from motion capture data, with the aim of assessing fall-risk in the elderly.

6.       Song variation in the golden-cheeked warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia).


Doctoral students




1.       Alexander R. Asilador (in progress, Neuroscience program, University of Illinois).




1.       Erik C Johnson (2016, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois; co-supervised with Douglas L. Jones)

2.       Michelle D. Valero (2012, Neuroscience program, Department of Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio)




I do not teach at Illinois other than offering sundry guest lectures. I did teach when I was on the faculty in the biology department at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


List of classes where I was the instructor, provided guest lectures, and was a teaching assistant.




List of things I have done for my institutions.




List of it.




I have many wonderful collaborators. They are students, postdocs, engineers, field biologists, and faculty. I cannot mention them all. However, my major collaborator since 2001 (and counting) is Douglas L. Jones (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Doug and I have worked on a range of problems at the interface between biology, engineering, and acoustics. These include, the blind estimation of acoustic reverberation time, the use of microphone arrays for monitoring frog choruses, and development of remote wildlife acoustic monitoring systems. Our ongoing work (since 2010) is on optimal neural coding, and the development of speech vocoders for cochlear implants using principles of optimal neural coding. My other long-term collaborator, since 2009 (and also counting), is Wendy Leonard who is a nature preserve officer with San Antonio Parks and Recreation (San Antonio, Texas, USA). Wendy and I have been working on song variation in the golden cheeked warbler, a critically endangered songbird in the Edwards Plateau region.




Someone once said that "it is not a problem when your hobbies interfere with your work. It is only a problem when your hobbies interfere with one another." My life has been a very serious struggle between academic and non-academic interests, sometimes tilting here and sometimes tilting there. However, I will write only about academic interests [about which you can click here].


There is so much to write about.... [Other Writings].


... and so many books to read. [Readings].

External links, and why there are none of them


In the early 1990s, when I first started graduate work in biophysics at the University of Illinois, I was with the late Professor Klaus Schulten's group (Theoretical Biophysics). We were on the 3rd floor of the Beckman Institute. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) was located up on the 5th floor of the Beckman and we were heavy users of the supercomputers at NCSA, not to mention doing summer jobs for them. So it was obvious that we would use Mosaic, the first web browser ever, originally developed at NCSA. It was a new toy and we wondered what we could do with it. One thing we discovered rather quickly: we could link to other pages (there were no "web" sites then, just pages). Now, this was just so cool.


So, our pages also included links to other pages around the world. There weren't too many of them so it wasn't too hard. Some among us were so desperate to create content that in certain pathological and degenerate cases, there were pages that only provided links to other pages. In later years it prompted us to add a small line at the bottom of our web page saying "Wasn't it great when every web page had a link to every other web page in the world?"


It would take too much space here to provide you with a link to every web page in the world. So, it is better to not provide any links at all.


"It's not my fault. It was the algorithm!"

Modified by Ratnam, Tuesday, October 11, 2017, 9:47 PM, Urbana, Illinois, USA.

Created by Ratnam, Tuesday, July 18, 2017, Urbana, Illinois, USA.