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Nanotechnology for Massively-Parallel, Multi-Physical Interrogation of Brain Activity

Although our understanding of the properties of individual neurons and their role in brain computations has advanced significantly over the past several decades, we are still far from elucidating how complex assemblies of neurons – that is, brain circuits – interact to process information.

In 2011, six U.S. scientists from different disciplines banded together, outlined a vision [1], and managed to convince the Obama administration of the unprecedented opportunity that now exists to launch a coordinated, large-scale international effort to map brain activity.  This culminated in the U.S. BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), which was launched in 2013.  Our perspective was predicated, in part, on the current level of maturity of diverse fields of nanotechnology and silicon very-large-scale integration (VLSI) that can now be coalesced to create unprecedented tools for massively-parallel, multi-physical interrogation of brain activity.  I will outline the immense complexity of such pursuits, the hopes we articulated, survey the existing technological landscape for assembling the requisite instrumentation, and then focus upon our own collaborative efforts toward these goals. I will highlight opportunities in the new field we’ve termed integrated neurophotonics for realizing this vision; it leverages advances in integrated nanophotonics, optogenetic reporters and effectors for neural recording and stimulation, and recent developments in implantable, multi-site neural nanoprobes based on silicon VLSI.

[1] Alivisatos A.P., Chun M., Church G.M., Greenspan R.J., Roukes M.L., Yuste R., The Brain Activity Map project and the challenge of functional connectomics. Neuron 74, 970-4 (2012).

Bio: Michael Roukes is the Robert M. Abbey Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology.  His scientific interests range from quantum measurement to applied biotechnology with a unifying theme of the development, very-large-scale integration, and application of complex nanosystems to precision measurements in physics, the life sciences, and medicine.  Roukes was the founding Director of Caltech’s Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) from 2003-2006.  In 2007, he co-founded the Alliance for Nanosystems VLSI (very-large-scale integration) with scientists and engineers at CEA/LETI in Grenoble, which maintains a $B-scale microelectronics research foundry. He then continued as co-director of Caltech’s KNI from 2008 until 2013. Since then he has returned to full-time pursuit of research efforts with his group and collaborators worldwide. Concurrent with his Caltech appointment, he has held a Chaire d’Excellence in nanoscience in Grenoble, France since 2008. Among his honors, Roukes is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a recipient of the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, and has been awarded Chevalier (Knight) dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the Republic of France.