The establishment in 1994 of the Theoretical Neuroscience program within the Center for Neural Science (CNS) catalyzed the formation of a link between two strong scientific departments at NYU: CNS and the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences (CIMS), in an effort to integrate the research of theoreticians and experimentalists in the study of the brain. Originally supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Theoretical Neuroscience Program has been supported since 2001 by the Swartz Foundation.
The guiding principles of the Theoretical Neuroscience Program are that theories of the brain need to be grounded in well-designed experiments, and that experimental work needs to be driven by theory. This is not an abstract concept or a slogan. It affects every aspect of our program: hiring, training, research. We train all our students in experimental techniques of neuroscience research as well as theory. Combined with a Postdoctoral Training Grant in Computational Neuroscience from the US National Eye Institute, the Sloan-Swartz Program supports several postdoctoral fellows each year for research and training in theoretical neuroscience.
A central feature of the Program is the seminar series that runs during the academic year. In-house and invited guests discuss current topics of interest to the faculty and students in the Program. Distinguished theoretical neuroscientists, and experimental neuroscientists with an interest in theoretical models, have been invited to speak. During the last two years David Ferster (Northwestern), Rudiger von der Heydt (Johns Hopkins), Satoru Suzuki (Northwestern), Susanna Martinez-Conde (Barrow Inst.), Diego Contreras(Penn), Jose-Manuel Alonso (SUNY), Maxim Volgushev (U Conn), Vijay Balasubramian (Penn), and Elizabeth Glowatzki (Johns Hopkins) have consulted and lectured in the Theoretical Neuroscience Program's seminar series.
Research in the program is focused in many promising areas. Currently active projects, and their principal investigators, include:
In 2008 the Swartz Foundation established the Leonard Bergstein Memorial Fellowship at New York University and New York University-Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. The award is for a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the New York University Theoretical Neuroscience Program. The first Leonard Bergstein Fellow is Dr. Daniel Marti who will work under the supervision of Professor John Rinzel on the development and analysis of computational models for perceptual and cognitive neurodynamics, with applications to visual perceptual bistability, perceptual grouping and sudden insight problem-solving. The new fellowship is named for Leonard Bergstein who was a distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.
The Sloan-Swartz Theoretical Neuroscience Program operates in the context of a larger group of individuals at New York University who are interested in the theoretical or computational side of neuroscience. In addition to those listed on the current projects, that includes Alex Reyes, Paul Glimcher, Nathaniel Daw, David Heeger within CNS; Charles Peskin, Davi Geiger, Yann LeCun in the Courant Institute; and Michael Landy, Lawrence Maloney, and Denis Pelli in the NYU Psychology Department.
There are many Theoretical Neuroscience Centers now supported by the Swartz Foundation, including programs at California Institute of Technology, The Salk Institute, Brandeis University, and University of California, San Francisco, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, Princeton University, as well as the program here at New York University. The consortium of Sloan-Swartz theoretical neuroscience centers meets each summer at a conference on issues in computational neuroscience where postdoctoral fellows and faculty from each program present new results and consult with each other.