From the Director Winter 2018 Issue 43

From the Director

Robert Desimone, Director of the McGovern Institute. Photo: Kent Dayton
Robert Desimone, Director of the McGovern Institute. Photo: Kent Dayton

The computing power of the human brain is in many ways more impressive than the largest supercomputer, yet it achieves this with an energy consumption no bigger than an electric lightbulb. One key to this remarkable efficiency is the computational power of individual neurons, of which there are almost 100 billion in a human brain. As you can read in this issue, my colleague Mark Harnett is studying how information is processed by individual neurons, and how they work together to form functional circuits within the living brain. Mark has assembled a talented team of young researchers whose technical skills allow them to make electrical recordings from the tiny branches of individual neurons, known as dendrites. Their work is helping to reveal computations within individual dendrites that represent the fundamental building blocks of brain function.

One of Mark’s questions is whether and how human neurons are different from those of mice and other experimental animals. The only way to answer this is by studying live human brain tissue, pieces of which can sometimes be obtained through epilepsy surgery. We are fortunate to be collaborating with a world-class neurosurgical team at Massachusetts General Hospital, who share our interest in understanding the fundamental workings of the human brain and its implications for both science and medicine.

Bob Desimone, Director
Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience

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