How does the brain function?
What tools are necessary to unlock its secrets?
How can discoveries in neuroscience
inform machine learning?
What can brain imaging reveal about
the way teens learn?
What can brain imaging reveal about
the way teens learn?

How does the brain function? What tools are necessary to unlock its secrets?

How can discoveries in neuroscience inform machine learning?


The human brain is arguably the most complex biological structure on the planet. Over the past 30 years, we have transformed our understanding of the biology of the brain, as new methods and revolutionary new tools have been developed to explore its structure and functioning. Moving beyond molecular analysis, neuroscience is now investigating networks of neurons whose concerted actions underlie the complexity of the human condition – thought, behavior, memory, self-awareness, language, and the full range of emotions from anger and despair to contentment and joy.

To lead the way, Columbia has established a comprehensive institute for the pursuit of interdisciplinary and collaborative research in brain science. The Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, with founding leadership from A&S faculty, is expanding the realm of traditional neuroscience to encompass other fields that will inform and expand our understanding of the brain.

Unraveling the details of how these networks function and how they encode human thought, behavior, and emotion lies before us. Within the Arts & Sciences, we are exploring key questions about the brain and how best to study it, including:


By pioneering optical imaging methods that have revolutionized neuroscience, Columbia researchers are having a major impact on modern neuroscience. In fact, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was proposed by a Columbia scientist. We recently established the NeuroTechnology Center which brought together a dozen laboratories, spanning optical and molecular engineering, nanofabrication, and computational approaches. This group stands to become a major leader within the BRAIN Initiative and keep Columba at the forefront of neuroscience methods development.



Columbia researchers across disciplines are working to understand the foundations of intelligence and computation. Integrating data science and neuroscience, they are comparing artificial computational systems with biological computational systems to extract shared principles and generate new ideas for exploration. Machine learning is advancing rapidly on the tide of deep neural network architectures, which currently bear little resemblance to true neural systems. Scientists at Columbia are leading the way to better understand the mind and machines.


At Columbia, we are investigating how our brains shape who we are and how we interact as a society. Breakthroughs in brain imaging are offering unprecedented insight into the biological principles underlying the complexity of human thoughts and behaviors. These discoveries have the potential to transform our understanding of what it means to be an individual in a social world – from classroom learning to economic decision-making. Columbia University scientists are now in a unique position to better understand who we are – from neurons, to brain circuits, to society.

  • Researchers have developed a computational tool that shines a light on the genome’s most hard-to-translate segments. It may help scientists understand how DNA guides everything from growth and development to aging and disease.
  • Andrés Bendesky argues that deciphering the astounding diversity of animal behaviors will help to gain insight into ourselves. In appreciation of this work, he is now being recognized as one of the most promising early-career scientists in America.
  • Columbia researchers have identified the nerve cells that initiate a fly’s escape response. Their results provide a window into a survival mechanism so important that it has persisted across evolutionary time, and today exists in virtually all animals.