Columbia's NeuroTechnology Center Fosters Interdisciplinary Neuroscience

October 24, 2014

Columbia University announced the establishment of an interdisciplinary NeuroTechnology Center with a mission to develop advanced optical, electrical, and computational technologies for the study of complex neurobiological systems.

The center draws together researchers from Columbia’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and Kavli Institute for Brain Science. It is led by Rafael Yuste, professor of biological sciences and neuroscience and an authority on the development of optical methods in neuroscience. Yuste, a co-director of the Kavli Institute, was the lead author of the initial Brain Activity Map proposal that gave rise to President Obama’s BRAIN initiative.

“President Bollinger has made it a core mission that Columbia be a place that brings together the most accomplished scholars from across our campuses, schools, and departments to address great questions about the human brain,” said David Madigan, Columbia’s executive vice president for arts and sciences. “Rafael Yuste is among the world’s leading experts in the development of optical methods for mapping the brain and this new center under his leadership adds another critical piece to our collective scholarship at the frontiers of neuroscience.”

The new center provides scientific and intellectual cohesion to an already existing group of independent researchers in the biological and physical sciences and in engineering and data sciences. It supports and facilitates the education and training of undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty on the newest technologies. The center’s initial activities are funded by a seed gift from the Kavli Foundation.

Examples of projects within the center’s mission are the development of in vivo microelectrode technologies for use in neuroscience and of novel computational methods to analyze large-scale recordings of neuronal activity. These tools and technologies are developed in close integration with researchers in the Zuckerman Institute, who then become users of the technologies.

“The interface between neuroscience and the physical sciences is creating powerful new tools that provide new ways of understanding the brain,” said Yuste. “By fostering a dynamic environment where scholars with different areas of expertise can come together to generate  new methods, technologies and insights—and by interacting with the strong core of the Zuckerman Institute faculty — this center will help define Columbia’s position among the leading centers of neuroscience and neurotechnologies in the world. You couldn’t dream of a better synergy between tool builders and tool users.”

The development of highly complex data at the center also sparks a “two-way street” of innovation  with the expertise and resources of Columbia’s Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering.

“The Neurotechnology Center provides a new focal point on the Morningside Heights campus for the most advanced neuroscience research,” said Mary C. Boyce, dean of Columbia Engineering. “The ongoing exploration of the complexities and intricate mechanisms of the brain helps inspire the invention of pioneering tools and techniques that will enable us to see, measure, and reach even further.”

The center is co-directed by Ken Shepard, professor of engineering and biomedical engineering, and an expert in electrical design and nanofabrication, who also participated in the Brain Activity Map workshops and proposals; Virginia Cornish, professor of chemistry and an expert in molecular probe design; and Liam Paninski, professor of statistics and neuroscience and a specialist in data analysis methods for neuroscience.

The center will host the Kavli Futures Symposium: The Novel NeuroTechnologies on November 3–4 and future annual symposia. Registration is now open. To learn more, visit: www.ntc.columbia.edu.

“The Neurotechnology Center neatly captures the spirit of Columbia’s interdisciplinary approach to the biomedical and physical sciences,” said neurobiologist Thomas Jessell, co-director of the Zuckerman Institute. “By bringing together today’s technical innovators, the center drives advances in many scientific fields, not least the strengths in the neural sciences represented in the Zuckerman Institute.”

 About Columbia University Among the world’s leading research universities, Columbia University in the City of New York continuously seeks to advance the frontiers of scholarship and foster a campus community deeply engaged in the complex issues of our time through teaching, research, patient care and public service. The University is comprised of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, and four affiliated colleges and seminaries in Manhattan, and a wide array of research institutes and global centers around the world. More than 40,000 students, award-winning faculty and professional staff define the University’s underlying values and commitment to pursuing new knowledge and educating informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

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