Harris will deliver a public lecture titled “Seeing the Brain in Action: A Toolmaker's Perspective” on November 3.

Timothy Harris, director of the Applied Physics and Instrumentation Group at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, will deliver a public lecture titled “Seeing the Brain in Action: A Toolmaker's Perspective” at Janelia Farm in Ashburn, VA.

Harris will speak on Wednesday, November 3, 2010, at 7 PM. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required for admission. Directions for obtaining the tickets are available on the HHMI web site at Seating is limited to 250 people.

The lecture is the seventh in a series called “Dialogues of Discovery at Janelia Farm.” Past speakers in the series have included Thomas R. Cech, former president of HHMI and an HHMI investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Roian Egnor, a fellow at the Janelia Farm Research Campus; Ronald M. Evans, an HHMI investigator at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; Gerald M. Rubin, HHMI vice president and director of the Janelia Farm Research Campus; Huda Y. Zoghbi, an HHMI investigator at Baylor College of Medicine; and Charles S. Zuker, an HHMI investigator at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a senior fellow at the Janelia Farm Research Campus.

Harris’ lecture will reveal how a new generation of research tools is helping neuroscientists image the brain with greater precision and watch neurons communicate with one another. As neuroscientists push the boundaries of knowledge, they are demanding tools that let them see smaller, deeper, faster, and with better specificity. New kinds of microscopes and better methods for labeling cells or molecules—developed at Janelia Farm and elsewhere—are making it possible for scientists to achieve those goals. But those advances come at a cost – they often introduce new technical challenges that must be addressed. In his talk, Harris will highlight tools that researchers are using to cause neurons to light up under a microscope when they fire. Scientists routinely use this technique to watch the cells work together when they respond to stimuli and generate an animal’s behavior.

As the director of the Advanced Physics and Instrumentation Group, Harris works with his colleagues to develop and deploy new technologies to the Janelia Farm research community, focusing in particular on tools for measurement. The group addresses technological problems that are not easily addressed by commercially available tools, and creates solutions that are accessible to biologists. Where practical, new tools are brought into users’ labs and disseminated broadly. The group’s current projects include an apparatus for evaluating the properties of fluorescent labeling molecules that make cells or their components visible under a microscope, and electrical probes that can simultaneously detect the activity of more than 100 neurons.

Harris earned a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Purdue University. During 18 years at Bell Labs, he developed new optical methods for studying semiconductors, including microscopic semiconductors called quantum dots, which are now included in optical switches, solar cells, and anti-counterfeiting ink. He later became interested in biological measurements that generate huge amounts of data, and while working at SEQ (now Amersham-GE Healthcare) and Helicos BioSciences he invented automated tools for screening potential drugs for their effects on cells and for inexpensively sequencing large numbers of DNA molecules. He has directed the Advanced Physics and Instrumentation Group at Janelia Farm since 2008.

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