Christof Koch is one of the world’s leading experts on consciousness. A longtime professor at Caltech, he’s just become the chief scientific officer at the Allen Brain Institute, an innovative research center that was funded with $100 million from Microsoft’s Paul Allen. The institute has spent the past eight years building remarkably detailed, three-dimensional atlases of mouse brains. Now, as Koch explains to Nature, he will use those atlases to launch an ambitious new project:
The idea is to focus on one or two behaviours — how we see, for instance, or smell, or remember — and ask how the relevant information is encoded, represented and transformed to give rise to behaviour.
The challenge is a bit like creating the Thirty Meter Telescope, which is going to be built on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in the next decade, at a cost of roughly $1 billion. There you have a couple of hundred people who are all working toward a common goal.
Neuroscience hasn’t had something like that, but the time is right to bring all these resources to bear onto a single question, not 20 questions in 10 different animals, each behaving differently. You essentially build a brain observatory where you try to study one behaviour exhaustively across the brain, and you make the data available to other people.
I spoke to Koch a few months back when I was writing about consciousness for the New York Times. Afterwards, he sent me an email.
Do tattoos of your favorite tools also count, Carl, for your collection? This is mine.
So I asked Koch what this tattoo meant to him.
The original Apple Macintosh, together with the Boeing B-747 Jumbo Jet and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, are the three most beautiful and elegant artifacts of the 20-th century. A perfect marriage of form and function.
Koch’s new job seems like the perfect opportunity to post his picture. Who knows how many other tattooed scientists are taking over the reins of power?
(Click here to go to the full Science Tattoo Emporium. And keep an eye out for Science Ink: Tattoos of the Scientifically Obsessed this fall.]