To enable the understanding and repair of complex biological systems, such as the brain, we are creating novel optical tools that enable molecular-resolution maps of such systems, as well as technologies for observing and controlling high-speed physiological dynamics in such systems. First, we have developed a method for imaging specimens with nanoscale precision, by embedding them in a swellable polymer, homogenizing their mechanical properties, and exposing them to water – which causes them to expand manyfold isotropically. This method, which we call expansion microscopy (ExM), enables ordinary microscopes to do nanoscale imaging, in a multiplexed fashion – important, for example, for brain mapping. Second, we have developed a set of genetically-encoded reagents, known as optogenetic tools, that when expressed in specific neurons, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light. Finally, we are designing, and evolving, novel reagents, such as fluorescent voltage indicators and somatically targeted calcium indicators, to enable the imaging of fast physiological processes in 3-D with millisecond precision. In this way we aim to enable the systematic mapping, control, and dynamical observation of complex biological systems like the brain.