New Biomaging Tools

The brain is the most complex system known to us, and discovering the principles underlying its structure, dynamics and function poses one of the most important challenges to modern science. Despite great progress, we remain far from understanding how brain circuits create purposeful behavior by allowing animals and humans to perceive and predict the external world, store and retrieve memories, and calculate and execute decisions. The obstacle is that the computations of the brain lie in the collective dynamics of astronomically large numbers of components -- the integrated dynamics of billions of neurons and trillions of synapses. Understanding the brain will require new interdisciplinary approaches to map and analyze the complex structure, function and dynamics of brain circuits at both high spatial resolution and over large volumes, from the scale of individual neuronal synapses (~10 nm) to whole neurons (~10 microns) to complete circuits (~1 cm).

In our labs at the Harvard Center for Brain Science, we are developing and applying powerful new imaging tools for brain science -- including functionalized electron microscopy using multi-color cathodoluminescence to determine both the structure and function of brain circuits with individual synapse resolution; super-resolution optical imaging (STED) with the capability of nanoscale magnetic field sensing using NV-diamond (mag-STED) to provide real-time monitoring of the structure, dynamics and development of living neurons; and a wide-field-of-view diamond magnetic field imager to map individual neuron activity non-invasively in large (>1 mm) neuronal networks. The long-term goal is to understand the principles and computational significance of the topology, connectivity and development of brain circuits. Our efforts are closely collaborative with the group of Prof. Jeff Lichtman.