Ed Boyden has been figuring out how to control brains with light since the birth of the field of optogenetics, just over a decade ago, and he continues to develop new “genetic solar cells” that may someday be used to treat brain disease or control brain function. In his article, "The Birth of Optogenics," he gives a first-person account of the emergence of this exciting new field. It was Boyden’s early training as an electrical engineer that got him interested in controlling systems and, ultimately, controlling brain circuits. But he’s a philosopher at heart, he says, always wanting to understand how the universe and the mind came to be. Of that late night in 2004, when he saw his first light-activated neurons, Boyden says, “I love those moments of discovery when you see something for the first time, and you realize you’re going to help people.”
The idea of using technology to record a researcher’s every movement in the lab may seem like a science-fiction scenario, but Peter Murray-Rust (far left) believes that such a setup would catch costly experimental errors and capture subtleties that are difficult to record manually. “If all of the data we work with was available, we could do all sorts of things that we can’t dream of yet.” Murray-Rust, a chemist by training, is currently a professor of molecular science informatics at the University of Cambridge where his research group has developed a markup language for the presentation of chemical data, and promotes making scientific data freely available to the public. The pluses and minuses of virtual lab monitoring is the topic of his Thought Experiment article with coauthor Brian Brooks. Brooks, director of BIB Consultancy and consultant to Murray-Rust’s group at Cambridge, began using computers early on in his research as a biochemist. While researching ways to tackle obesity, he computerized data collection from his study subjects: “rats living in boxes.” After that, “I began building bigger boxes to put people in,” he said. Currently, he is most excited about developing better ways of helping the public visualize how research funding is spent on science.