Ed Boyden is a professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute. He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, which develops tools for analyzing and repairing complex biological systems such as the brain, and applies them systematically to reveal ground truth principles of biological function as well as to repair these systems. These technologies include expansion microscopy, which enables complex biological systems to be imaged with nanoscale precision, and optogenetic tools, which enable the activation and silencing of neural activity with light, amongst many other innovations. He co-directs the MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering, which aims to develop new tools to accelerate neuroscience progress.
Amongst other recognitions, he has received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2016), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015), the Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences (2015), the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award (2013), the Grete Lundbeck Brain Prize (2013), the NIH Director's Pioneer Award (2013), the NIH Director's Transformative Research Award (twice, 2012 and 2013), and the Perl/UNC Neuroscience Prize (2011). He was also named to the World Economic Forum Young Scientist list (2013), the Technology Review World’s "Top 35 Innovators under Age 35" list (2006), and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2017).
His group has hosted hundreds of visitors to learn how to use new biotechnologies, and he also regularly teaches at summer courses and workshops in neuroscience, and delivers lectures to the broader public (e.g., TED (2011); TED Summit (2016); World Economic Forum (2012, 2013, 2016)). Ed received his Ph.D. in neurosciences from Stanford University as a Hertz Fellow, where he discovered that the molecular mechanisms used to store a memory are determined by the content to be learned. Before that, he received three degrees in electrical engineering, computer science, and physics from MIT. He has contributed to over 300 peer-reviewed papers, current or pending patents, and articles, and has given over 300 invited talks on his group's work.
Optical Tools for Analyzing and Repairing Complex Biological Systems
To enable the understanding and repair of complex biological systems such as the brain, we are creating novel optical tools that enable molecular-resolution maps of large scale systems, as well as technologies for observing and controlling high-speed physiological dynamics in such systems. First, we have developed a method for imaging large 3-D specimens with nanoscale precision, by embedding them in a swellable polymer, homogenizing their mechanical roperties, and exposing them to water – which causes them to expand isotropically manyfold. This method, which we call expansion microscopy (ExM), enables scalable, inexpensive diffraction-limited microscopes to do large-volume nanoscopy, in a multiplexed fashion. Second, we have
developed a set of genetically-encoded reagents, known as optogenetic tools, that when expressed in specific neurons, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light. Finally, we have collaboratively developed strategies to image and record fast physiological processes in 3-D with millisecond precision, and are using them to acquire neural activity maps with single cell resolution in living brain circuits. In this way we aim to enable the systematic mapping, control, and dynamical observation of complex biological systems like the brain.