The most mysterious biological organ in the universe is located right between your ears: your brain -- a non-stop multitasking marvel. Your brain controls your thinking, voluntary behaviors, and critical aspects of your physiology, such as breathing.
Although brain research has advanced in recent years, no one has yet cracked the code of healthy brain function. An improved understanding of the healthy brain may open new avenues for treating traumatic brain injuries and brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
That’s why the National Science Foundation (NSF) -- the only Federal agency that funds basic research across almost all science and engineering fields -- supports basic research on how healthy brains work. NSF is also one of the five Federal agencies supporting The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, an initiative launched by President Obama in 2013 that aims to develop and apply technologies to help revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.
Advanced technologies and techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bionic limbs, and laser eye surgery were all initially grounded NSF-funded basic research. Basic research on the healthy brain could lead to equally profound advances.
NSF-funded brain research comes to life in a new video series -- “Mysteries of the Brain” -- produced by NBC Learn in partnership with NSF. “Mysteries of the Brain” uses special effects, simulations, interviews, and animations to show, not just tell, what we know about how the brain works in various species, including humans, and the creative techniques being used by cutting-edge brain researchers to learn more.
NSF-funded brain research
“Mysteries of the Brain” is just one of NSF’s many activities involving brain science. In FY 2015, NSF is awarding over $100 million for research across a range of neuroscience and cognitive science topics.
Researchers are using this funding to invent new probes to monitor and manipulate the brain; build computer models to help reveal the activities of neurons that drive thoughts and behavior; improve brain imaging technologies; and study the nervous systems of varied species.
In addition, NSF-funded researchers are creating a cyberinfrastructure to store and manage the "big data” generated by brain studies. (For some perspective on the “big data” created by brain studies, consider that if nanoscale images of one human brain were stored in a stack of 1 terabyte hard drives, the stack would reach to the moon, or beyond!)
NSF and the BRAIN Initiative
NSF has been advancing the BRAIN Initiative through varied multi-disciplinary activities:
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
James Olds is Assistant Director for the BIO Directorate at the National Science Foundation.