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Tools & Technology

Tools & Technology

Researchers Undertake Challenge to Image Every Cell in Human Brain

From the lab of Elizabeth Hillman, PhD, Columbia's Zuckerman Institute

Advances in understanding the mind often begin with new technologies for investigating the brain.

From the 19th-century microscopes that revealed the building block of the brain, the nerve cell, to modern imaging techniques that measure neural activity, new tools can show us not only the anatomy of the nervous system, but how it functions.

To push the limits of today’s tools and technologies, our researchers build bridges across disciplines. How can engineers and scientists work together to build new devices that allow for new kinds of experiments that shed light on how our brains grow or perform computations? How can physics spur new approaches to imaging the brain’s interior? What can mathematics teach us about dealing with big data?

At Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute, our researchers have developed new ways to visualize the brain in 3D and designed molecular tools for mapping the nervous system. Technological advances lie at the heart of understanding everything from consciousness to sensory perception — and have already begun to reveal clues about how we move our bodies and the underlying causes of diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease).

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A Brain Scientist and Volcanologist Investigate Why Some Volcanoes Turn Explosive

Imaging the Living Brain

Elizabeth Hillman leads a team that is developing new imaging methods for the living brain. Their goal is to understand the way that the brain functions and regulates its blood flow, which can provide important clues to understanding early brain development, disease and aging.


Developed by Richard Mann, Flywalker is a combination apparatus and software program that pays close attention to an insect’s steps. The insect strolls over a piece of glass in the device. At the same time, light beamed into the glass bends — much in the same way that light shimmers in a swimming pool — resulting in bursts of light where the fly touches the glass. A video camera captures those bursts and then feeds them into software that reconstructs the fly’s movements, step by step.

The Restless Brain: New Study Uncovers Vivid Patterns of Neural Activity in the Resting Mouse Brain

Columbia scientists have traced the origins of mysterious signals in the brain that have captivated the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) community for the last decade. Using a recently developed imaging technique in mice, the Columbia team revealed synchronized, network-like neural activity coursing around the brain, even when the mouse was ‘at rest.’