A workshop on Experimental and Theoretical Neuroscience recently held at NYU Abu Dhabi reflected the breadth and variety of work that is happening in the field of computational neuroscience, an interdisciplinary field that examines the way the brain processes information.

Computational neuroscience melds methods and knowledge developed in fields as diverse as psychology and engineering. The event featured talks on the way birds learn to sing, the babbling of babies, and creating mathematical models of the way the brain makes a decision, and many more.

"The tools of research in this field are quite broad," said David Cai, Principal Investigator of the Computational Modeling of Normal and Abnormal Cortical Processing lab at NYUAD.

"Basically we are trying to unify research from different labs, trying to rationalize data and provide insight into the mechanisms of various physiological observed phenomena," said Cai, who is also Professor of Mathematics and Neural Science at NYU New York's Courant Institute.

A talk by Douglas Zhou, Co-Principal Investigator of the lab at NYUAD, featured research that was the result of a collaboration of computational neuroscientists from NYUAD and experimentalists from other institutions. "The experimentalists bring us data and we analyze it, then ask them to go back and do another experiment," Cai noted. "That's something that generally reflects the activity of NYU Abu Dhabi neuroscience research."

In the next several years, the group is interested to study the cerebral cortex in normal and abnormal states — the cerebral cortex is the outer layer of brain that is critical for processes like attention, language, and memory. Disease or trauma to the cerebral cortex can lead to deficiencies in these activities, but can also help scientists understand how the brain works. Moving forward, researchers like Cai want to develop new ways of observing brain activity using non-invasive methods.

"There's also a desire to invent new experimental methods, because now we have a huge amount of data, lots of new tools, but we need new ways of looking at the data, and that’s one of the strengths of the group," Cai said.

The workshop featured 18 participants, mostly from China and Europe, and included scientists from NYU New York, NYU Shanghai, and NYU Abu Dhabi.