On March 8, the Flatiron Institute celebrated the opening of its Center for Computational Neuroscience (CCN). The center, led by neuroscientist Eero Simoncelli, develops and implements computational models to understand how brains work.
The event included speeches from Simons Foundation leadership and lectures on the state of computational neuroscience by William Bialek of Princeton University and Larry Abbott of Columbia University. Afterward, attendees visited the new center’s workspace.
“I’m standing here very inspired, very hopeful and very confident that we have the right people at the right time to push the frontiers of our knowledge and dig deeper,” said Simons Foundation co-chair Marilyn Simons at the event.
The CCN is the Flatiron Institute’s fifth research division, joining centers devoted to computational astrophysics, biology, mathematics and quantum physics. Initially the Flatiron Institute was only intended to house four centers, “but the wish for neuroscience did not go away,” said foundation co-chair Jim Simons.
Although the CCN began operations in early 2021, the scientists only recently moved into their permanent home: two newly renovated floors across the street from the Flatiron Institute. Simoncelli worked closely with the architect to craft a space that encouraged scientific collaboration. A particular focus was the well-stocked coffee bar, which serves as a central watering hole and ensures that caffeine is always on hand to fuel marathon research and discussion sessions.
“An important thing in my mind throughout all of this was how to build something that would promote a culture of interaction,” said Simoncelli, who is also the Silver professor of neural science, mathematics, data science and psychology at New York University. “All, of course, centered around a magnificent espresso machine which is the core of the center.”
The CCN will ultimately house around 55 staff, including three senior group leaders, four associate group leaders, research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, computational engineers and support staff. Simoncelli sees the center as “living at the nexus” of three endeavors and communities: systems neuroscience; perception, cognition and behavior; and computational theory and methods.
“The question for us at CCN is really how to balance our interactions with those three very, very large subfields,” said Simoncelli.
As the center grows and establishes itself, the CCN is uniquely situated to make an outsize impact, said Simons Foundation president David Spergel. “For me, the ultimate outcome, the ultimate goal for CCN is to help change the conversation in neuroscience, to help build a computational and theoretical framework that will ultimately change the way we think about the brain,” he said. “And that’s a very exciting prospect.”