Neuroscience is undergoing an experimental revolution, powered by technological advances that allow us to witness immensely complex neuronal dynamics across many spatiotemporal scales, from molecular dynamics within synapses to global electrical activity patterns. This plethora of data provides a grand challenge to theorists who aim to develop quantitative, conceptual frameworks for how important behaviors like perception, attention, decision making, learning, and memory emerge from the biophysics of neurons and synapses. After giving a brief overview of the field of theoretical neuroscience, we will discuss a few vignettes from our lab, where theoretical methods lead to conceptual advances that impacted both the interpretation and design of experiments. In particular, we will discuss how birds learn to sing, how molecular complexity within synapses can contribute to learning and memory, and how genetically modified mice with enhanced plasticity, nevertheless can show impaired learning. To illustrate the universality of our theoretical methods, along the way we will discuss how they also shed light on protein folding and web searching.
Refreshments in the Physics Lobby at 4:00 p.m.