Sculpting Light, Illuminating the Brain

Announcing recipients of Kavli Innovation Grant awards

The Kavli Foundation has selected the recipients of its Kavli Innovation Grant, inspired by the Sculpted Light in the Brain conference. The awards will support four teams of scientists developing and utilizing new neuroscientific methods that rely on photonic technologies.

"Vibrant conferences like Sculpted Light spark great ideas and new collaborations,” said Amy Bernard, director of life sciences at The Kavli Foundation. “The Kavli Innovation Grant leveraged this opportunity to inspire scientists from diverse fields to work together on transformative research.”

Founded in 2017, the Sculpted Light in the Brain conference convenes neuroscientists, computer scientists, optics researchers, and others to share advances in novel technologies that use light to explore neural function. The Kavli Foundation has been a sponsor of this event, largely driven by early-career researchers. This year, conference attendees were invited to bring their emerging ideas to the next level by submitting proposals for funding.

Sculpted Light has grown from a local grassroots effort among postdocs and graduate students at UC Berkeley to a premiere conference,” said Eirini Papagiakoumou, on behalf of the Sculpted Light in the Brain organizing committee. “We, the organizers, were excited when The Kavli Foundation proposed to fund collaborations that were seeded at the conference and support the next generation of researchers in this community.”

This cohort of awardees was selected through a competitive review of outstanding projects and represents a broad range of scientific areas and technological approaches.

Metamaterial Design for Lenses

Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy, associate professor at Northwestern University, and Abdoulaye Ndao, assistant professor at Boston University, use innovations in metamaterial design to enhance performance of fluorescence photometry. They seek to unlock possibilities enabled by miniaturization by using flexible, tissue-compatible materials, reconfigurable metalenses, advanced beam steering applications, and simplified microscope components. Their advances may make these tools and techniques available to more labs, helping to democratize science.

Optical Control to Study Parkinson’s Disease

Luis Carrillo-Reid, associate professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Jose Rodriguez Romaguera, assistant professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will use two-photon calcium imaging, two-photon optogenetics, and develop a novel method to track physiological arousal states. They will implement infrared sensors to track real-time arousal states in a rodent model. Their goal is to use this closed-loop technology to study Parkinson's disease and gain insights that may help unravel the complex mechanisms of this neurodegenerative disorder.

Computational Microscopy for High-Speed Voltage Imaging

Nicolas Pégard, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will receive an award to collaborate with group leader Srinivas Turaga, who is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Janelia Research Campus. Together they will develop custom hardware and software to enable microscopy of 3D voltage imaging in deep-brain neural circuits. Voltage imaging is a powerful tool that has historically been challenging to implement. This team’s optical hardware and analysis software will make this transformational imaging method more robust and technologically accessible.

Imaging Neural Activity and Spatial Transcriptomics

Changwoo Seo, postdoctoral fellow working with Catherine Dulac at Harvard University, and Weijian Zong, postdoctoral fellow working with May-Britt and Edvard Moser at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, strive to bridge the knowledge gap of how neuronal architectures of cell types and activity patterns contribute to behavior. They will combine two new techniques – imaging-based single-cell transcriptomics and miniature 2-photon microscopy – to measure how gene expression governs neural clusters and how different cell types contribute to neural circuits that control social behavior in mice.