Institutt for fysikk og teknologi

What can physics do for brain science?

Brain science is struggling. Despite decades of intense research we still do not understand much regarding how the brain works, and we have still little to offer against pervasive and serious brain afflictions like dementia or psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia. So a natural question is: Are we doing brain research in the best way? Are there ways to do it better?

A main challenge of brain science is the many scales involved, from the molecular scale to whole brains and behaviour. And these different scales are intimately connected. For example, a change in a molecule, such as a mutation in the DNA molecule, can have devastating effects for the entire animal or human. But multiple scales are not unique to biological systems. Modern numerical weather forecasting, for example, connects spatial scales from a few hundred meters to the size of the Earth to make accurate weather predictions. Likewise, the design of a modern SmartPhone is based on the bridging across numerous scales, from atoms to semiconductors to transistors to chips on the hardware side, and from machine code via low-level and high-level programming languages to graphical interaction with apps on the software side. Behind this amazing development lies decades of intimate and comprehensive multidisciplinary collaborations between experimentalists ( one of the hands ) and modelers ( the other hand ) building and testing mathematical models at the different scales. This is in fact the approach that has been used in physics for a few centuries.

In the presentation I will argue for the need of a similar two-handed multisdiscipllnary approach to bridging scales in brain science and on-going developments to pursue this.