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Expert Voices

'Brain Observatories' Could Transform Neuroscience (Live Webcast)

Brain Neurons
(Image credit: Sergey Nivens |

Lindsay Borthwick, writer and editor for The Kavli Foundation, contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

U.S. President Barack Obama's grand challenge in science and technology, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, launched two years ago, is already fueling the creation of powerful new brain research tools. 

New microscopes are helping neuroscientists peer deeper into the brain; new probes are allowing them to track the coordinated activity of hundreds of brain cells; and more precise brain implants are giving patients more control over artificial limbs. But there are still enormous technical challenges that must be overcome to meet the needs of the global neuroscience community. 

So how should the BRAIN Initiative evolve? What will ensure that these breakthrough technologies are optimized and widely adopted?

Six researchers who catalyzed the BRAIN Initiative now propose a national network of neurotechnology centers, or "brain observatories." These centers could be modeled after the U.S. Department of Energy's National Labs, which build incredibly complex and precise machines, such as particle accelerators and space telescopes. But instead of creating tools to explore the mysteries of the universe beyond Earth, brain observatories would focus on the universe within each human being. 

"It is our view that the technological challenges [in neuroscience] that must be surmounted are sufficiently complex that they are beyond the reach of single-investigator efforts; we believe they can only be surmounted through highly coordinated, multi-investigator, cross-disciplinary efforts," the researchers wrote in an opinion piece published this month in the journal Neuron.

But on what brain research technologies would these centers focus? How would they be structured? And just what could they achieve for neuroscience?

If you're a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.

On Friday, Oct. 30, at 1 p.m. EDT, join The Kavli Foundation for a live webcast with Miyoung Chun, Michael Roukes and Rafael Yuste — three of the paper's authors — on this proposed way to catalyze brain research in the United States. Submit questions ahead of and during the webcast by emailing or by using the hashtag #KavliLive on Twitter.

About the participants:

Miyoung Chun (moderator) is executive vice president of science programs at The Kavli Foundation. Chun's career spans a wide range of experience in academia and industry. This includes serving as assistant dean of science and engineering and director of international research advancement at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Michael Roukes is a professor of physics, applied physics and bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology. The founding director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech (and later a co-director), Roukes is currently focused on developing advanced nanodevices, engineering them into complex systems, and using them to solve fundamental problems in neuroscience and proteomics.

Rafael Yuste is a professor of biological science and neuroscience at Columbia University, co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science and director of the NeuroTechnology Center, also at Columbia. Yuste is interested in the structure and function of cortical circuits, the biology of dendritic spines, small protrusions on the branches of neurons, and the pathophysiology of epilepsy. To study these questions, Yuste has pioneered the application of imaging techniques.

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitterand Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.