SIAM News Blog

Role for the Math Sciences in Federal BRAIN Initiative

By Miriam Quintal

With the launch of the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, neuroscience and cognitive science have become major priorities of the Obama administration, numerous federal agencies, and private partners. As the accompanying article demonstrates, mathematicians have much to contribute toward progress in these fields. The BRAIN initiative seeks to enhance the development and application of new technologies that will revolutionize our understanding of the brain. Three primary agencies are engaged in the initiative: the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation, and there are opportunities for the SIAM community to engage with each.

Each agency is taking a different approach to BRAIN funding, and many of their efforts connect to computational or data issues. At NIH, they are focused on seven goals that range from fundamental understanding of neural circuitry to applications for diseases and disorders. Modeling is central to this effort; in fact, a chapter in the report of the NIH BRAIN Working Group is titled “Theory, Modeling, and Statistics Will Be Essential to Understanding the Brain.” The focus at NSF is also on computational and modeling challenges; themes include innovative technologies to understand and enhance brain function or treat brain disorders; development of cyber tools and standards for data acquisition, analysis, and integration; and multiscale and multimodal modeling to relate dynamic brain activity to cognition and behavior. DARPA envisions programs in mathematics that would use scalable computational and modeling brain research tools to analyze brain networks. 

Given the growing nature of this initiative and the importance of modeling and other mathematical challenges to its success, the SIAM community is encouraged to participate in workshops, symposia, conferences, and proposer’s days to shape and compete for new opportunities arising from NIH, NSF, and the Department of Defense agencies. This is a great time to engage, bringing the expertise of the mathematical sciences community to bear on the grand challenge of understanding the brain.

See related article "Exploring Connectivity in the Brain's Network of Neurons" by Eric Shea-Brown. 

Miriam Quintal is SIAM’s Washington liaison at Lewis-Burke Associates LLC.

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