The Columbia Theory Hub aims to address three fundamental questions in neuroscience research with unprecedented coordination, coherence, and unity of purpose: 1) What? Identifying and extracting the relevant signals and underlying structure and dynamics in data and encapsulating them in an intelligible description suitable for further study. 2) How? Elucidating the biophysical mechanisms that account for and explain the ways that neural circuitry supports and implements the identified structure and dynamics. 3) Why? Identifying the computations being performed and explaining how they contribute to behavior. Integrating knowledge of neural circuit structure and function into a coherent picture of perception, cognition and action requires extraordinary cooperation and coordination between different research areas: experimentation, data analysis and modeling. Columbia's NeuroNex Theory Team brings together researchers with experience in developing and applying advanced statistical and modeling methods and who are embedded in an extensive network of collaborations across the entire field of neuroscience. Our overall goal is to foster scientific advances through the quality of our research, the excellence of our trainees, and the impact of our visitor, dissemination, and outreach programs.
Key Research Resources Being Developed and Disseminated
The primary product of our efforts are the papers we publish, ranging from collaborative work with experimental groups to the development of new statistical approaches, new modeling techniques, and new ideas about neural circuit function. Important biproducts of these efforts are training people with a wide variety of backgrounds in applying mathematical and computation approaches, and providing a place where people can come to immerse themselves in a vibrant theory community and obtain both expertise and inspiration. Columbia’s NeuroNex Theory Team is embedded in two major Centers for theoretical neuroscience research at Columbia — the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience (CTN) and the Grossman Center for the Statistics of Mind — which are both part of the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute (ZI). ZI folds into its institute over 50 world class experimental labs and is housed in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center (JLG), a new building specifically designed to foster interaction between labs. With its numerous break-out spaces, meeting rooms, and communal areas, the JLG’s open architecture design enhances our ability to bring together scientists from diverse backgrounds at different stages of their careers.
Our dissemination activities centers around documenting new collaborations, projects, initiatives and other significant and relevant activities related to neuroscience. Whenever possible, papers, talks, newly developed analytical methods, simulation code, and other products resulting from our work are made available on the Theory Hub’s website. The site is an archive that logs and documents the Hubs activities from publications to outreach.
Reaching Out to the Community
Many of our collaborations began when a graduate student, postdoc, or PI from an experimental laboratory approached us to ask a question or to discuss a puzzling piece of data or experimental feature. These interactions are not only a service we provide to the broader neuroscience community, they are also a way for us to expand and strengthen our own research. Our Theory Hub is a “drop-in” center where any researcher can obtain assistance with quantitative issues surrounding experimental design, analysis, and interpretation. Through the implementation of our programs (Visitors program, Exchange Program, Junior Scientists Meeting, Student and Postdoc Exchange, and educational outreach through BRAINYAC and Saturday Science), we widen our reach by providing access to and information about the latest and best tools in statistical analysis and model building to neuroscientists across disciplines, to undergraduate, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, and to local area public school students.