Methods in Computational Neuroscience

Welcome to Methods in Computational Neuroscience Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA.

About the Course

Animals interact with a complex world, encountering a variety of challenges: They must gather data about the environment, discover useful structures in these data, store and recall information about past events, plan and guide actions, learn the consequences of these actions, etc. These are, in part, computational problems that are solved by networks of neurons, from roughly 100 cells in a small worm to 100 billion in humans. Methods in Computational Neuroscience introduces students to the computational and mathematical techniques that are used to address how the brain solves these problems at levels of neural organization ranging from single membrane channels to operations of the entire brain.

In each of the first three weeks, the course focuses on material at increasing levels of complexity (molecular/cellular, network, cognitive/behavioral), but always with an eye on these questions: Can we derive biologically plausible mechanisms that explain how nervous systems solve specific computational problems that arise in the laboratory or natural environment? Can these problems be decomposed into manageable pieces, and can we relate such mathematical decompositions to the observable properties of individual neurons and circuits? Can we identify the molecular mechanisms that provide the building blocks for these computations, as well as understand how the building blocks are organized into cells and circuits that perform useful functions?

Core presentations in weeks one to three will be given jointly by theorists and experimentalists who have worked, often together, on the same problems. In the first week, to supplement the lectures, there will be numerous optional tutorials covering topics including dynamical systems, information theory, UNIX basics, and simulation using NEURON, MATLAB, and XPP. As each week progresses, the issues brought up in these presentations will be explored in laboratory demonstrations and exercises that invite the students to follow and generalize from the paths outlined in the lectures. Exercises involve both quantitative analysis of experimental data and exploration of models through analytic and numerical techniques. To reinforce the theme of collaboration between theory and experiment, exercises are often performed in teams that combine students with theoretical and experimental backgrounds.

The fourth week of the course is reserved for student projects. These projects provide the opportunity for students to work closely with the resident faculty, to develop ideas that grew out of the lectures and seminars, and to connect these ideas with problems from the students’ own research topics.

This course is appropriate for graduate students, postdocs and faculty in a variety of fields, from zoology, ethology, and neurobiology, to physics, engineering, and mathematics. Students are expected to have a strong background in one discipline, and to have made some effort to introduce themselves to a complementary discipline. The course is limited to 24 students, who will be chosen to balance the representation of theoretical and experimental backgrounds.

This course is partially supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute for Drug Abuse, NIH, Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain, and the Organization for Computational Neurosciences.


2018 Course Directors:
Stephen Baccus, Stanford University
Xiao Jing Wang, New York University

2017 Confirmed Faculty:
Abbott, Larry, Columbia University
Baccus, Stephen A., Stanford University
Berke, Josh D., University of California San Francisco
Brody, Carlos, Princeton University
Brown, Emery N., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Chklovskii, Dmitri, Simons Foundation
Deneve, Sophie, Ecole Normale Supérieure
Eden, Uri, Boston University
Eliasmith, Chris, University of Waterloo
Ermentrout, Bard, University of Pittsburgh
Fairhall, Adrienne L., University of Washington
Fiete, Ila, University of Texas at Austin
Fitzgerald, James, HHMI Janelia Research Campus
Frank, Loren M., HHMI and UCSF
Fusi, Stefano, Columbia University
Gallant, Jack, UC Berkeley
Ganguli, Surya, Stanford University
Johnston, Daniel, University of Texas at Austin
Kopell, Nancy J., Boston University
Lengyel, Mate, University of Cambridge
Marder, Eve, Brandeis University
Mel, Bartlett, University of Southern California
Pillow, Jonathan W., Princeton University
Savin, Cristina, New York University
Sejnowski, Terrence, Salk Institute
Solla, Sara A., Northwestern University
Sompolinsky, Haim, Hebrew University
Tenenbaum, Josh, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Wang, Xiao Jing, New York University


Course dates and application

The course will run from July 29 – August 24, 2018.
MCN Course Application – The application deadline is *March 20th*.


Please feel free to direct questions/comments to one of the course TAs or our course coordinator.


Stephen Baccus, Stanford University
Xiao Jing Wang, New York University

Course Assistants:

Johnson, Daniel R.,

Travel Information

Information on getting to Woods Hole and the MBL can be found here. If you’re coming from Logan airport, and are not renting a car, you may want to skip directly to the Peter Pan bus co’s website.

If you’re driving your own car, MBL’s address is:

7 MBL Street
Woods Hole, MA 02543

Google Maps