Introducing Dr. Ed Boyden

Optogenetics Neuro-engineer — Neuroscientist at MIT. Associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Tools for Analyzing and Engineering the Brain

The brain is a complex, densely wired circuit made out of heterogeneous cells, which vary in their shapes, molecular composition, and patterns of connectivity. In order to help discover how neural circuits implement brain functions, and how these computations go awry in brain disorders, we invent technologies to enable the scalable, systematic observation and control of biological structures and processes in the living brain. We have developed genetically-encoded reagents that, when expressed in specific neuron types in the nervous system, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light. I will give an overview of these “optogenetic” tools, adapted from natural photosensory and photosynthetic proteins, and discuss new tools we are developing, including molecules with novel color sensitivities and other unique capabilities. Often working in interdisciplinary collaborations, we have developed microfabricated hardware to enable complex and distributed neural circuits to be controlled and observed in a fully 3-D fashion, as well as robots that can automatically record neurons intracellularly and integratively in live brain. These tools are in widespread use to enable systematic analysis of neural circuit functions, are also opening up new frontiers on the understanding and treatment of brain disorders, and may serve as components of new platforms for diagnosing and repairing the brain.


Develops 'optogenetic' tools enabling activation and silencing of neural circuit elements with light; 3-D microfabricated neural interfaces enabling control and readout of neural activity; and robotic methods to automatically record intracellular neural activity and performing single-cell analyses in the living brain.

Applies neurotechnologies to analyze and engineer the circuits of the brain and to understand how cognition and emotion arise from brain network operation, and enabling systematic repair of brain disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, PTSD, and chronic pain.

Launched an award-winning series of MIT classes teaching principles of neuroengineering from basic principles for control and observation of neural functions, culminating with neurotechnology start-up strategies.

Stanford University Ph.D. in neuroscience, discovering that molecular mechanisms used to store a memory are determined by the content to be learned.

Authored over 250 peer-reviewed papers, current or pending patents, and articles. Associate Prof. of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences, leading the Synthetic Neurobiology Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Named in Top 35 Innovators Under 35 by Technology Review, Top 20 Brains Under 40 by Discover Magazine, and received the NIH Director's New Innovator Award, the Society for Neuroscience Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience, the NSF CAREER Award, the Paul Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, the New York Stem Cell Foundation-Robertson Investigator Award, the Perl/UNC prize, the IET Harvey Prize.

Lectured on optogenetics at TED and at the Davos World Economic Forum..


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