How the SCGB Plumbs the Inner Workings of the Brain

The Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain uses new technology and computational techniques to explore brain activity.

What motivates us to train for a marathon? How do we decide between chocolate cake and apple pie? And what role do our memories play in such choices? These inner workings of the brain have traditionally been difficult to study. The Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB), launched in 2014, explores these questions by pairing new technologies for monitoring the brain with powerful computational and modeling techniques. The collaboration, led by David Tank of Princeton University and an executive committee, supports an interactive community of 73 scientists.

The SCGB was made possible by a recent technological revolution in neuroscience: For the first time in the field’s history, researchers can monitor the activity of thousands of neurons at single-cell resolution using various innovative sensors. These include high-density electrode arrays to track electrical changes and molecular tools to assay calcium concentration, an indirect measure of neuron activity. Scientists can also manipulate neuronal activity with optogenetics — a method by which neurons are genetically engineered so that they may be turned off and on with light — and then test the role those neurons play in cognition.

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