About the BRAIN Initiative

What is the BRAIN Initiative?1

In April 2013, the President announced the launch of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative – a bold, new initiative focused on revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. The BRAIN Initiative is one of the Administration’s “Grand Challenges” – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in science and technology. Since then, dozens of leading technology firms, academic institutions, scientists and other key contributors to the field of neuroscience have answered the President's call and made significant commitments to advancing the Initiative. Within that same year, top neuroscientists developed a 12-year research strategy for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to achieve the Initiative's goals.

President Barack Obama during the announcement of the BRAIN Initiative

“We have a chance to improve the lives of not just millions, but billions of people on this planet through the research that's done in this BRAIN Initiative alone. But it's going to require a serious effort, a sustained effort. And it’s going to require us as a country to embody and embrace that spirit of discovery that is what made America, America.”

— President Barack Obama, 2013 Announcement of the BRAIN Initiative (Credit: The White House)


The Brain Activity Map Timeline


With a special focus on activities of the Kavli Foundation and initial federal partners in the BRAIN initiative, this timeline selectively highlights meetings, papers and announcements important to the BRAIN Initiative, beginning with the Brain Activity Map (BAM) Project. Updated periodically, it includes a selective library of related papers, videos, program details and other materials. (Related programs not in the timeline are listed here.)


What is the significance of the BRAIN Initiative?2

The BRAIN Initiative has the potential to do for neuroscience what the Human Genome Project did for genomics: It not only deciphered the human genome, but also provided a resource to the world that details the structure, organization and function of the complete set of human genes. By supporting the development and application of innovative technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function, the BRAIN Initiative offers the possibility of creating a treasure trove of information on all 100 billion neurons of the human brain. Greater understanding of neural dynamics and function will also help researchers uncover the mysteries of brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In the years ahead, the initiative hopes to accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought. These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.

Francis Collins during the announcement of the BRAIN Initiative

“The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works – or, unfortunately, doesn’t quite work when disorders and disease occur… This is just the beginning of a 12-year journey and we’re excited to be starting the ride.”

— NIH Director Francis S. Collins, 2013 Announcement of the BRAIN Initiative (Credit: The White House)


Who is part of the BRAIN Initiative?3

Since President Obama announced the BRAIN Initiative in April 2013, dozens of leading technology firms, academic institutions, scientists and other key contributors to the field of neuroscience have made significant commitments to advancing the Initiative. Initial partners in the BRAIN Initiative are listed below.

Diagram of the BRAIN Initiative partners

How does the BRAIN Initiative Work?4

Given the ambitious scope of this pioneering endeavor, it was vital that planning be informed by a wide range of expertise and experience. The NIH established a high-level working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) to help shape this new initiative. This working group, co-chaired by neuroscientists Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and William Newsome (Stanford University), sought broad input from the scientific community, patient advocates and the general public. Their BRAIN 2025 report, released in June 2014 and enthusiastically endorsed by the ACD, articulated the scientific goals of the BRAIN Initiative and developed a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones and cost estimates. The scientific vision in BRAIN 2025 will require ideas from the best scientists and engineers across diverse disciplines and sectors. Therefore, government agencies, including the NIH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) are working with private partners who are also committed to ensuring success through investment in the BRAIN Initiative.

What is The Kavli Foundation’s role in the BRAIN Initiative?

The Kavli Foundation and its partners were instrumental to the development of the BRAIN Initiative. In September 2011, The Allen Institute, The Gatsby Foundation and The Kavli Foundation convened a workshop at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre focused on opportunities at the interface of neuroscience and nanoscience. In December 2011, a white paper proposed the creation of an activity map of the brain to the NIH, DARPA and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and was later published in the journal Neuron. Throughout 2012 and into 2013, The Kavli Foundation and OSTP hosted a series of meetings to refine the proposal for the brain activity map, which played a catalytic role in President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative. The Kavli Foundation continues to support the BRAIN Initiative through multiple endeavors, just a few of which are described here. Shortly after the President’s announcement, the Kavli Coffee Hour program was initiated to serve as a mechanism for seeding and nurturing the new interdisciplinary partnerships that will be necessary to fulfill the goals of the BRAIN Initiative. The leadership of several Kavli Institutes played a significant role in the creation of the California Blueprint for Research to Advance Innovations in Neuroscience (Cal-BRAIN) project, which receives state funding for research grants and became the first state-wide program to complement the national BRAIN Initiative. The Neurodata Without Borders (NWB) project, of which The Kavli Foundation is a partner, aims to standardize neuroscience data on an international scale and to break down the geographic, institutional, technological and policy barriers that impede the flow of neuroscience data within the scientific community.

Diagram of the Neuroscience Kavli Institutes

The Kavli Foundation supports an international network of seven Kavli neuroscience institutes that carry out fundamental research in neuroscience. The Kavli neuroscience institutes are located at Columbia University, the Johns Hopkins University, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, The Rockefeller University, the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, San Francisco and Yale University. Funding to the U.S.-based Kavli neuroscience institutes supports research that moves the BRAIN Initiative forward. Several Kavli nanoscience institutes also conduct research in alignment with the BRAIN Initiative’s goals, including those at the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Harvard University, University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. At the time of President Obama’s announcement in 2013, The Kavli Foundation publicly pledged to spend $40 million in new funds to support basic neuroscience research. In 2015, the Foundation surpassed this pledged when, in partnership with the universities hosting Kavli neuroscience institutes, more than $100 million in new funds was dedicated to basic research about the brain.

BRAIN Initiative Links: Partnering Federal Agencies

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: The BRAIN Initiative is one of the Administration’s “Grand Challenges” – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in science and technology: OSTP/White House BRAIN Initiative

  • Investments from five federal agencies, as well as foundations, private research institutions and companies enable the BRAIN Initiative. President Obama proposed more than $300 Million in funding for the BRAIN Initiative in 2016: BRAIN Initiative Fiscal Year 2016 Fact Sheet

National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH works in close collaboration with other government agencies to support the BRAIN Initiative: NIH BRAIN Initiative

National Science Foundation (NSF): The NSF fosters BRAIN Initiative research by bringing together a wide range of scientific and engineering disciplines: NSF BRAIN Initiative

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): DARPA supports the BRAIN Initiative through a number of programs, including the Neuro Function, Activity, Structure, and Technology program: DARPA BRAIN Initiative

Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA): IARPA is an organization within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that invests in high-risk, high-payoff research to tackle some of the most difficult challenges in the Intelligence Community: IARPA BRAIN Initiative