In DepthNeuroscience

Second bid for brain observatory

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Science  23 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6259, pp. 365-366
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6259.365

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Last Friday, prior to the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in nearby Chicgao, nearly 100 top researchers and government officials met to discuss a bold proposal: the creation of a National Brain Observatory, a network of neurotechnology centers tied to the Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Labs. Such a network, akin to the type of big, expensive facilities historically built for physicists and astronomers by governments, was first mooted 3 years ago, when Rafael Yuste, a neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York, and five colleagues drafted the proposal for what would ultimately become President Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. As part of that proposal, they argued that the technological challenges facing neuroscience require "big science" investments similar to national telescopes and particle accelerators. But the first round of federal BRAIN funding—roughly $100 million—went almost exclusively to grants for technology development by individual labs. At the meeting, attendees discussed four broad goals for the proposed Observatory: expanding access to large scale electron microscopes; providing fabrication facilities for new, nanosized electrode systems; developing new optical and magnetic resonance brain activity imaging technologies; and finding new ways to analyze and store the staggering amount of data detailed brain studies can produce. They also discussed creating a map of roughly half of the human brain's 100,000 km of axons, the threadlike extensions that project from neurons, as the NBO's first big project.