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Lighting Up the Brain

David Boas, BU Neurophotonics Center director and brain imaging pioneer, uses light to illuminate our thoughts

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Faced with a problem, David Boas will invent a way around it. Boas, the founding director of the Boston University Neurophotonics Center and a world leader in the field of neurophotonics, which uses light to peer inside the living brain, built a homemade Ethernet connection to speed his doctoral research (one year before the first web browser was unveiled) and wrote a software program to make a girlfriend’s research go faster. The machines he engineers to shed light on the inner workings of the brain—from sophisticated microscopes to lasers that beam infrared light through the skull—are often peppered with homespun ingenuity: he once jammed coffee stirrers into a wheel of color filters rotating under a microscope, using them to trigger a camera as each color whirled by, in order to show how blood absorbs different wavelengths of light.

Lighting Up The Brain

David Boas, a Boston University professor and pioneer in neurophotonics, uses light to peer into the brain. By shining infrared light into a person’s head, he can study their brain activity during surgery, memory creation or retrieval, or even a simple headache, which has opened the door to treatment of different afflictions (such as stroke):

Posted by BURST on Friday, July 13, 2018

 

The Neurophotonics Center, the first facility of its kind in the United States and only the second in North America, pulls in 30 faculty from fields as diverse as biology, mechanical engineering, brain sciences, and nanomedicine. Its mission, says Boas, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, who formerly taught at Harvard Medical School and was the founder of the Optics Division of the Martinos Center at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), is to cultivate technologies that give researchers new insights into the brain. Most of Boas’ work is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and feeds into its ambitious BRAIN Initiative, a decadelong multibillion-dollar project to speed the development and application of innovative neurotechnologies.

Since opening in fall 2017, the Neurophotonics Center has started studies analyzing the brain as it recovers from a stroke, confronts autism, and slides into dementia. It’s also helping to nurture a community of student neurophotonics researchers with a $2.9 million National Science Foundation Research Traineeship.

“David is the pioneer of techniques and methods to use light to interact with the brain,” says Thomas Bifano, an ENG professor of mechanical engineering and director of the BU Photonics Center. “He’s going to make a difference in our understanding of the brain, specifically by making tools that allow us to see it in ways we haven’t seen it before.”

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