Brain cellsThe human brain contains an estimated 100 billion nerve cells (blue), as well as support cells known as glia (red and green). Neuroscientists are striving to understand how these cells are born, grow, connect and work together to give rise to our thoughts and actions. (Credit: NICHD/J. Cohen)

Neuroscience seeks to understand the most complex biological structure in the Universe, with an estimated 100 billion brain cells, or neurons, and trillions of connections between them. To make sense of the brain’s complexity, neuroscientists draw on expertise from numerous fields, including biology, physics and computer science, neurology, psychology and even philosophy. Some of the main questions they are trying to answer are: How does the brain, in which networks of cells course with electrical and chemical signals, give rise to the mind? How does the brain compute? How do we learn and remember (See "Memory")? What is the biological basis of language (See "Language")?  And what causes psychiatric and neurological illnesses (See “Brain diseases & disorders”)?

Many neuroscientists feel the field is entering a new era, spurred by new technologies and techniques (See “Neurotechnology”) with which they can finally explore the working brain and begin to answer these questions. Hand in hand with this is a surge of interest in the field among graduate students, funding agencies as well as philanthropists and private enterprises. And, since 2013, a handful of big science project have launched to study the brain including the European Commission’s Human Brain Project to create a supercomputer simulation of the human brain and the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative (See “BRAIN Initiative”) to develop new brain research tools, along with smaller efforts in Japan, Israel and China.

The BRAIN Initiative: Surviving the Data Deluge

Sep 12, 2013
Brain chip

Mapping brain activity will produce nearly as much data as the Large Hadron Collider, yet managing the sheer volume of information will be the simplest challenge for brain data managers

Spotlight Live: Language Development & Babies

Sep 11, 2013

On Sept. 17, Noon-12:30 PDT, Eino Partanen, Jeff Elman and Christine Moon answer your questions about early language development and the making of memories in the womb.

The Brain or the Universe – Where Does Math Come From?

Aug 07, 2013

What are the origins of math? Is math an inherent part of our reality, or merely something the brain uses to cope with, and explain, our environment? Four scientists discuss (and debate) the merits of both viewpoints.

Spotlight Live: The Brain or the Universe – Where Does Math Come From?

Aug 02, 2013

The Brain or the Universe – Where Does Math Come From? On August 7, 2013, three leading scientists - two neuroscientists and one astrophysicist -– answered your questions about this debate during a live Google Hangout.

UCSD Creates Center for Brain Activity Mapping: Interview with Director Ralph Greenspan

May 19, 2013

An interview with Ralph Greenspan as the University of California, San Diego announces a new Center for Brain Activity Mapping (CBAM).

Nanotechnology and the Challenge of Building Powerful New Tools for Brain Research

May 15, 2013

To understand the language of the brain, we will need to monitor thousands and then tens and even hundreds of thousands of neurons networked across the brain. Nanotechnology promises to make this – and more – possible.

Sidebar: Re-Imaging Neuroscience

Apr 14, 2013

Today, most people with a basic science education know what a neuron is. But it was only in the late 19th century that Spanish neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal convincingly showed that such cells – rather than an interconnected net of tissue – formed the basis of the nervous system.

Spotlight Live: Uncovering a More Complex Path for Memory

Apr 11, 2013

On April 11, science writer Bruce Lieberman talked about memory and the brain with two leading researchers in the field: Bradford Dickerson and Mayank Mehta. 

The Brain Activity Map Project

Apr 10, 2013

In 2011, neuroscientists and nanoscientists had an idea for revolutionizing our understanding the brain. Now that idea is a national challenge, as President Obama's BRAIN Initiative seeks to decipher the neural code that gives rise to our perceptions and experience.

An Intricate Network: New Research Is Uncovering a More Complex Path for Memory

Mar 05, 2013

New findings reveal memory networks more intricate than previously believed. Understanding these pathways may help develop ways to enhance learning, mitigate memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s or guard against memory loss from aging.


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