Berkeley is in a new era, bringing together the biological and physical sciences, engineering, the social sciences, and the humanities to achieve unprecedented understanding of the human brain and mind’s complexities. The Berkeley Brain Initiative builds upon our foundational contributions to neuroscience, including:
An evocatively named network of highly miniaturized, wireless sensors, Neural Dust uses tiny bursts of ultrasound to record real-time activity from neurons, muscles, or organs. Invented by Berkeley professors Michel Maharbiz and Jose Carmena, this innovative tool offers a less-invasive method of in-body telemetry that could enable the movement of prosthetic limbs or help to monitor health.
Combining computational algorithms with advanced MRI imaging, Jack Gallant decodes dynamic experiences from neural signals, such as viewing a movie or hearing a story. Such studies could pave the way for reproducing dreams, memories, or thoughts. Gallant and colleagues have mapped where words are organized by their meaning in the cerebral cortex.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans reveal to William Jagust the progression of mental impairment that precedes Alzheimer’s disease. He measures declines in glucose metabolism in the brain’s temporal and parietal lobes, key to memory formation and language. PET can also detect subtle changes in asymptomatic people who develop dementia.
Mu-ming Poo’s pioneering discoveries about neural circuitry provide crucial clues for understanding memory, awareness, and learning. He has shown how neurons in the developing brain find each other to form synapses. Poo also demonstrated the brain’s inherent plasticity: we continue to generate neurons beyond childhood into old age.
Berkeley anatomist Marian Diamond showed that early life experiences enhanced by environmental enrichment led to physical changes in the brain — such as a thicker cortex, higher ratio of glial cells to neurons, and denser networks of dendrites. Higher cognitive function seems to benefit from social and other stimulation, and pursuing mental challenges strengthens the immune system.
Photoswitches, synthesized light-sensitive chemicals and proteins that turn cell activity on or off when exposed to light, were developed at Berkeley. This research tool holds clinical promise for treating retinal blindness by returning light sensitivity to damaged eyes.
Berkeley physicist Erwin Hahn discovered two fundamental phenomena that led to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. Berkeley later built the first whole-body MRI scanner, transforming radiology and medical treatment worldwide. Berkeley was also key in developing ultra-low-field MRI, which could permit imaging in a freely moving person.
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