On solving the brain: Ed Boyden and the new neuroscience
Originally published for Synbiobeta on September 24th, 2018
On Ed Boyden’s Twitter feed, you’ll find a picture of him with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Boyden, wearing a blazer, no tie, and glasses, holds up a Petri dish as Trudeau, sleeves rolled up and tie loosened, leans in to examine the sample. Although both are dressed in a typically professional manner, Trudeau’s boyish face and Boyden’s hipster scruff reflect how in their respective fields, these young idealists have earned power and influence usually reserved for more senior leaders. Trudeau, 46, may be better known worldwide, but in scientific circles the 38-year-old Boyden has a similar reputation as a precocious thinker pushing neuroscience into the next age of discovery.
Gifted from a young age, Boyden graduated from college at 19 and subsequently earned degrees in physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, and neuroscience. His vast interdisciplinary knowledge and perspective have enabled him to develop ingenious innovations in neuroscience.
“Chemistry, physics and engineering are very ground truth sciences. For me, they are solution domains,” Boyden says. “I want to use these solutions domains to tackle a problem domain like neuroscience.”
Boyden wants to solve the brain. He wants to know what a feeling, thought, or decision looks like, and how information flows through neural networks. How to understand and improve the human condition from a neurological perspective. He ultimately aims to computationally create a map of the brain to enable further detailed study of the complex interaction of high-speed, multifaceted biological systems. However, this is no simple feat, as there are numerous components that need to be modeled cohesively yet are not necessarily pieced together easily.
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