Professor of Chemistry at Harvard
OK, what is the most difficult problem that you're trying to solve right now? Well, I'm working, and my students are working on several different problems which none of us knows how to solve. And so we don't know which of these is going to be most difficult, which might be easy to solve, and which might be completely unsolvable. So I'll tell you about one problem that we're interested in. We're interested in trying to understand the three dimensional structures of memories in the brain. So if you think about what you had for breakfast this morning, there's some three dimensional representation of that memory in your brain and some set of biochemical changes in the neurons in your brain. But we have no idea what these maps are, or what are the rules that govern how memories are encoded or represented in the brain. My lab is working on trying to develop tools which we can use to map these changes. One approach that we're working on is to genetically engineer neurons to grow little protein fibers inside of each cell. And as these fibers grow, they incorporate marks of neuronal activity, a little bit like tree rings in a tree, which incorporate information about seasonal climate changes. And by incorporating within each neuron, a little tape recorder of its activity, we hope to be able to then look in the brains of animals, mice, which have learned different things, and to map the patterns of neural activity associated with different memories during the formation of the memory, during the recall of the memory, and during eventually maybe the forgetting of the memory, or changes in the memory.