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. He has been involved in this field, called rehabilitation engineering, rehabilitation robotics or neurobotics, since 2003 as he entered Northwestern University and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as a graduate student. 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. Prof. Sulzer uses his experience in robotics, biomechanics and neuroscience to attack problems in rehabilitation from both the level of the limbs as well as the brain.
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 the second version, in addition to overseeing the rtfMRI mailing list.