To solve the mystery of how the brain develops and works, we need tools and technologies to measure activity from the cellular level to complex behavior. We need to bring together engineers and material scientists with neuroscientists and psychologists to push the frontiers of measurement and assessment of brain function. The mission of the Brain and Behavior Initiative (BBI) at the University of Maryland (UMD) is to revolutionize the interface between engineers and neuroscientists by generating novel tools and approaches to understand complex behaviors produced by the human brain. Our emphasis on cross-disciplinary collaboration and investigative tool development make the BBI unique among brain initiatives: just as gene sequencing transformed the study of human evolution, new technologies are essential in unraveling the complexity of the brain and understanding the production of behavior in health, aging, and disease. Our emphasis on the diversity of expertise – from computer scientists to psychologists to performance artists – will allow the BBI to break down the silos that exist amongst researchers working in isolation and create a novel and integrated understanding of human behavior. This is evidenced by the recent brain and behavior workshop at UMD that attracted more than 150 faculty from social/natural/behavioral sciences, engineering, and performing arts, demonstrating the commitment to, and enthusiasm for, brain and behavior research on this campus.
We identified three broad themes that highlight our existing strengths in brain and behavior research at UMD: 1) Neural Circuits, Learning & Plasticity, Motor Control; 2) Sensation, Perception, Communication; 3) Mental Health. These research themes are complemented by faculty in Engineering, Computer Science, and Physics who integrate work across the spectrum of brain research by developing and refining tools, including the development of biomedical devices. This positions us to become a major player in a scientific area that is going to see the marrying of the physical sciences – a key strength at our campus – with the biological and behavioral sciences.