Aldern, a graduate of St. Francis High School, said he was interested in biological sciences when he entered Brown and was "instantly hooked" when he took an introduction to neuroscience.
"I'm interested in the intersection between visual discrimination and decision-making — being able to look at an object and see that it is what it is. And then being able to make the leap to decide what to do with it and follow through with that action," Aldern said.
Aldern likened it to looking at a set of car keys and knowing they're car keys, but not knowing what to do with them. He said the research has potential uses in Alzheimer's disease.
He said one reason he's interested in neurological diseases is that his grandfather died of Parkinson's disease and a close family friend died of Alzheimer's. But he said he likely won't be doing the same kind of memory research at Oxford. He said he's planning to work instead on cutting-edge technology to help paralyzed patients.
The idea is that a stroke or traumatic brain injury patient's muscles might be healthy, he said, but they can't send a signal from their brain to their muscles to make them move. A "brain-computer interface" would help make that connection, he said. Computers would be trained to recognize the thought patterns that represent a specific action and then send the right commands to a prosthetic arm or leg. He wants to work on developing the algorithms that would make it happen.
"It's literally converting thought into action," he said. "All the patient has to do is think about moving the arm in the exact same way as before the accident, and the prosthetic arm will do that."
Aldern is also editor-in-chief of Post-, an arts and culture magazine of the Brown Daily Herald. He started writing for it in his freshman year.
"It's a really nice break from the academic grind," he said, adding, "I don't sleep too much."