In a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything, Ed Boyden ’99, MEng ’99 discussed topics from the optogenetic tools he has developed to better understand the brain to his children’s eating habits. Boyden, head of the Media Lab’s Synthetic Neurobiology Biology group, is inventing a host of new tools to repair the many biological systems that make up the brain.
Boyden, also an associate professor of biological engineering and cognitive sciences, has been instrumental in bringing expansion microscopy and optical, nanofabricated, and robotic interfaces to the world of neuroscience. One recent milestone is Boyden’s win of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize, a $3 million award that he and his wife, brain scientist Xue Han, are using to fund research that “straddles the unknown but could also have revolutionary diagnostic, therapeutic, or scientific impact.”
In his Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), which went viral, Boyden answered questions about his favorite meal, which is often whatever his two small children are eating, to how neuroengineering can contribute to research on many areas, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy. “Since neuroengineering is so interdisciplinary, even within my own group—which contains chemists, neuroscientists, physicists—we are constantly working on how to explain our work to each other,” he says, and that leads to sharing discoveries with researchers in different fields.
Boyden’s interest in the brain started with curiosity. “For me, it was simply that I was very philosophically driven—I wanted to understand more about what it meant to be human, to exist, to think, to feel. Physics wasn't, by itself, doing it for me. So I switched into neuroscience and found out that my physics background was perfect for what I wanted to do. We needed a lot of new tools to confront the complexity of the brain, and physics training was exactly appropriate for that path,” he says.
Where does Boyden think optogenetics will be in 20 years? “Optogenetics could be used to do very precise control of neural circuits, driven by better understanding of the brain circuitry,” he says.
Boyden’s Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) garnered 151 questions and comments and he answered 21. The AMA was also up voted 1,728 times, meaning users found the AMA interesting enough to keep it at the top of the science Reddit discussion. Read Ed Boyden’s full Reddit AMA discussion.