Columbia University in the City of New York

This Runner Computes How Vision Works

Meet Graduate Student Tuan Nguyen, Neurobiology and Behavior Program

Tuan Nguyen is a graduate student in physics earning his PhD in a neuroscience lab. He’s applying tools usually employed in fields like materials science to the study of neurons. A runner who frequently races alongside other members of Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute, Nguyen works closely with theoretical neuroscientist Ken Miller to decipher the brain’s visual system. Drawing on his physics background, Nguyen hopes to uncover how connected circuits of brain cells find meaningful features in what we see, helping us make sense of the world.

Photos by Thomas Barlow


Nguyen collaborates on equations describing computational models with Postdoc Agostina Palmigiano.



Nguyen refers to a favorite book of Ken Miller, his advisor and codirector of Columbia’s Center for Theoretical Neuroscience.


How neurons in different cortical layers respond to vision shown in a model of the developing mammalian primary visual cortex.


Ball bearings are a system of many interacting bodies described by mean field theory, math that Nguyen uses to study neurons.


Nguyen’s models explain how the activities of inhibitory (blue) and excitatory (red) neurons interact.

Nguyen in the theory center.