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David Cox, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, is a recipient of a 2014 Google Faculty Research Award. The highly competitive one-year grant supports world-class technical research in 23 fields including computer science, engineering, and human-computer interaction.
Cox is one of two people to receive the award in the newly created computational neuroscience category. “I am thrilled to receive this award.  The grant will enable my lab to pursue a new ambitious line of highly interdisciplinary work, spanning across biology and computer science,” he said. “I am excited to see where the project takes us, and I am excited to continue cultivating a relationship with Google Research.”

Cox will conduct experiments designed under how the brain learns and adapts to the environment, using 2-photon calcium imaging in living brains. He will then compare the learning processes of biological systems to those of machine learning algorithms, in collaboration with scientists at Google Research. Ultimately, the research will advance our knowledge of how the brain works, as well as guide the development of biologically-inspired algorithms for interpreting visual information on the internet, such as images and video. “The brain is a massively powerful computer, and if we really understood how it works, we should be able to use that knowledge to build better computer algorithms that can enable machines to understand the visual world like we do,” he said.

Cox earned a Bachelor of Arts in biology (MCB back then) from Harvard University in 2000, and a PhD in neuroscience from MIT in 2007. He went on to become a Rowland Junior Fellow at Harvard’s School of Engineering before joining MCB in 2012. His laboratory focuses on understanding how the brain processes visual information, and ways to build computer algorithms inspired by the brain. This fall Cox will teach two courses: neurobiology of the brain, and a fundamental neuroscience course through EdX—an online education program offering courses from Harvard, MIT, Berkeley and other world-class universities.