"Chuck" Alan D. Dorval II, Ph.D.

        last updated January 8, 2010.  Please email me if something is amiss.

USTAR Assistant Professor
Bioengineering & Neurosciences
University of Utah
Salt Lake City UT, USA

Curriculum Vitae
(801) 587-7631

Dr. Dorval applies the tools of engineering to study the nervous system and design ways to improve the health and quality of life for persons with neural disorders. Dorval's research activities include: engineering novel treatments to alleviate the symptoms of neurological diseases; quantifying information processing in the brain and interpreting informational changes induced by disease and treatment states; and elucidating the relationships between the structural elements of neurons and neural tissue, their physiological dynamics and their behavioral responses.  Pursuing these interests, Dorval performs experimental studies, recording and stimulating neurons and neural tissue while assessing symptom severity in computational systems, animal models and human participants with neurological disorders.

I conduct research in the field of neural engineering, oriented toward designing devices that will alleviate the symptoms of neurological diseases and disorders by modulating neural activity.  In most cases, intelligent construction of neuromodulatory devices requires a more complete understanding of how neural activity relates to behavior than exists currently.  Hence the goals of my specific research projects are often two stage: first, to better understand how neural activity corresponds to behavior and symptoms, and second to engineer interventions that will modify neural activity to improve function.


Neural Information Processing in Movement Disorders and Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)DBS is an increasingly common surgical treatment used to alleviate the symptoms of some neurological disorders, including Parkinson's Disease and Essential Tremor.  For DBS therapy, high frequency (~100-200 Hz) pulses of electrical stimulation are presented to motor regions of the thalamus or basal ganglia, deep within the human brain.  While remarkably therapeutic, its effect on surrounding neural tissue and the mechanism of symptom alleviation are unknown.  We quantify the effects of existing DBS therapy on information processing in the brain, and engineer patterns of stimulation better suited to alleviate symptoms while avoiding side-effects and reducing power requirements.  For this project thus far, we have used computational neural networks, in vivo animal models of Parkinson's disease and human participant volunteers with movement disorders.

Related Publications Recent Abstracts

Variable yet Reliable Neuronal Responses to Natural and Artificial Input. 
A neuron transmits information by firing spikes of membrane potential along its axon as a signal to downstream neurons.  The information a neuron can transmit is limited by the spike rate, the variability of the membrane potential waveform, and the fidelity with which inputs are reliably transformed into outputs.  In this project we elucidate fundamental constraints on how rate, variability and reliability limit the processing of synaptic and externally applied information.  We quantify those concepts with a measure of firing pattern entropy, and explore methods to best estimate that entropy.  We also examine how various neuronal elements (e.g., ion channels, dendritic spines) and electrical stimulation affect rate, variability, reliability and the information to which they give rise.  For this project thus far, we have used computational neuronal  models and in vitro rodent neurons.

Related Publications


Random Fluctuations in Ion Channel States Enables Rhythmic Activity. 
The mammalian brain is rife with rhythmic activity at many frequencies and across various brain regions.  In the hippocampus in particular, periodic activity in the 4-12 Hz range is highly correlated with active exploration and location identification.  While there may be several mechanisms contributing to the generation of this oscillatory activity, we focus on contributions provided by the random (i.e., thermal noise driven) openings and closings of membrane spanning proteins that, when open, channel Na+ ions across the neuronal membrane.  The small number of these so called persistent Na+ channels suggests that neurons may control their oscillatory activity by increasing or decreasing the pool of available channels over time.

Related Publications

Controlling Abstract Properties of Neuronal Behavior, In Vitro.
Electrophysiologists have traditionally relied upon two techniques to assa the membrane and response properties of neurons: current and voltage clamp, which control the current through an intracellular electrode and the voltage across the neuronal membrane, respectively.  The modern technique of dynamic clamp supercedes those more traditional methods, enabling: the addition or subtraction of less straighforward quantities including conductance or capacitance; the control of more abstract qualities including firing rate and membrane potential variability; and the generation of arbitrarily complicated hybrid networks in which living neurons are connected to entirely artificial constructs.  This technique harbors great potential for future scientific discovery.

Related Publications



Teaching Experience


Teaching Assistant/Fellow (TA/TF)

Professional Activities