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Herper: Deep Look Into Paul Allen's Brain Research

Matthew Herper has a lengthy story about Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen's brain science research in an upcoming issue of Forbes Magazine. -------------------------------------- Behind a black curtain in a small room a titanium sapphire laser is prepared to fire at a tiny and very surprising target: a half-centimeter glass window surgically implanted into the skull of a live mouse. If all goes right the laser will fire for a quadrillionth of a second while the mouse runs on a white, treadmill-like ball and watches a computer screen. Thanks to special dyes, certain brain cells will glow green if the mouse is using them, their image captured by cameras capable of detecting a single photon. ... Looking over the contraption puts a big–and pretty rare–smile on the face of Paul Allen, the 59-year-old Microsoft cofounder who has plowed $500 million into the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a medical Manhattan Project that he hopes will dwarf his contribution as one of the founding fathers of software. The institute, scattered through three buildings in Seattle‘s hip Fremont neighborhood, is primarily focused on creating tools, such as the mouse laser, which is technically a new type of microscope, that will allow scientists to understand how the soft, fleshy matter inside the human skull can give rise to the wondrous, mysterious creative power of the human mind. "As an ex-programmer I’m still just curious about how the brain functions, how that flow of information really happens," says Allen in a rare interview, in a conference room overlooking an active ship canal. "The thing you realize when you get into studying neuroscience, even a little bit, is that everything is connected to everything else. So it’s as if the brain is trying to use everything at its disposal–what it is seeing, what it is hearing, what is the temperature, past experience. It’s using all of this to try to compute what the animal should do next, whether that animal is a mouse or human being." -------------------------------------- -- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter
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