Prof. Sulzer’s main research interests include development of technology for understanding and addressing significant issues in physical rehabilitation following neurological injury such as stroke. Some of those issues include the poor recovery of fine motor control, the inability to quantify dosage of physical therapy and lack of proper characterization of motor impairment. His main interests include improving fine motor control and restoration of walking function. James uses a unique combination of methods such as functional neuroimaging (fMRI, fNIRS and MEG) and neurofeedback, reflex neurophysiology, exoskeletal robotics, experimental biomechanics, and musculoskeletal simulation to address these problems. Having a strong multidisciplinary community is critical to this research, so James founded the Clinically Applied Rehabilitation Research and Engineering (CARE) Initiative in 2014 and currently co-directs this organization with Prof. Linda Noble-Haeusslein, Ph.D., P.T. with funding from the Cockrell School of Engineering. He earned his PhD at Northwestern University and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago under the tutelage of Prof. Jim Patton and Prof. Michael Peshkin. James conducted his masters and PhD in ME researching a novel mechanical actuator using cable moment arm manipulation and the causes of Stiff Knee gait in stroke patients using exoskeletal perturbations, respectively. After his PhD, he wanted to learn more about the neuroscientific aspects of rehabilitation, and studied the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging to biofeedback, a method known as real-time fMRI neurofeedback, at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Under the guidance of Prof. Roger Gassert, Dr. Sulzer was able to show that people can voluntarily control the activity of a region of their brain that produces dopamine, a key neurotransmitter in learning and possibly rehabilitation.
As a graduate student at Northwestern, Prof. Sulzer led a nascent entrepreneurial interest group, InNUvation, overseeing the creation of the first university-wide business plan competition, research fair, and a multidisciplinary course known as NUvention (Medical), based on the Stanford BioDesign program. As a postdoc, James founded the first international conference on real-time fMRI, and co-organized future versions (Gainesville, FL 2015, Nara, Japan 2017 and Aachen/Maastricht 2019) in addition to overseeing the rtfMRI mailing list and website.