Ed Boyden Won a 3 Million Dollar Prize for Peering into the Brain. Here's How He's Spending it.

March 3, 2016
Hertz Staff

From STAT: Kendall Squared

Neuroscience hasn’t been the same since Ed Boyden arrived on the scene. As a trainee at Stanford, Boyden helped develop a technique that allows scientists to control brain activity with light with exquisite precision. But back when he was looking for faculty positions, the young scientist couldn’t land a job.

Boyden eventually found a home at the MIT Media Lab, where his blend of brain science and engineering was embraced, and in November he won a $3 million Breakthrough Prize, an award started and funded by dot-com billionaires to celebrate scientific achievements.

Read More: Light-activated neurons hold bright promise for brain science

He recently met with STAT reporters and editors, and what follows are edited excerpts from the conversation. Now 36 and head of the Media Lab’s Synthetic Neurobiology Group, Boyden spoke about how he and his wife, Boston University brain scientist Xue Han, are spending the Breakthrough Prize money, how he keeps track of all his ideas, and how technology he’s had a hand in developing — including optogenetics and expansion microscopy — could move from a research tool to helping patients.

What are you doing with the $3 million?

My wife and I have been discussing a lot of things. Part of it we’re using to try to support research that’s too crazy to get funded by normal means. Could we make an optimal way of prospecting for treasure in the natural world? Can we find unknown things that could have revolutionary diagnostic, therapeutic, or scientific impact?

If you look at a lot of great biotechnologies, they’re often stumbled across from curiosity or wondering why jellyfish glow green or looking for enzymes in hot springs, all sorts of stuff. That stuff, in peer-reviewed settings, often doesn’t sound cool — you want to look at jellyfish all day?

Aren't you spending any of the money on yourself?

Certainly my wife and I put some aside for our kids’ college education. But I spend most of my time in the lab working or at my desk thinking. Everything’s either thinking science or taking care of kids at this point.


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