The Science of Brain Mapping

Our perception of self evolves with our understanding of the brain.

The human brain is made of billions of big, branched cells called neurons.  They communicate through synaptic connections, growing into a dense web that represents the experiences and perspective of an individual. 

Your brain is constantly relaying signals, whether you're reading an article, playing a game,  or simply sleeping. 

gif: Daniela Gamba, Seung Lab, Princeton University. Thanks to Tobias Navarro Schröder for advising on the propagation of neural signal waves across the brain.

Generally, one can study this beautiful network either as whole or via parts.  As they say, the brain is the most complex thing in the known universe; seldom, if at all, do labs try to tackle it all. 

To consider the whole brain is to study system dynamics involving populations of billions of neurons. Many researchers are making headway here by exploring functional hubs: regions of the brain linked to specific behaviors.  

Understanding  how neurons combine in a concerted effort to execute distinctly human capabilities requires investigation across many scales.  These cells are miniscule and seeing the details with electron resolution microscopes has revealed new insights into these beautiful intricate networks. 

The brain's mysterious microscopic domain is the cosmos of consciousness. The micro-monumental structures of neurons allow them to reach vast distances and touch tens of thousands of neighbors. 

Charting these cells, measuring their activity, sequencing their genetics, and combining these into a single model is one of the great challenges in neuroscience and arguably of homo sapiens. We don't know when the ultimate model that facilitates our understanding of consciousness will emerge. It could be in the works right now or perhaps it will be by labs that have yet to be created. It is at least safe to say that today's fields of neuroscience will inevitably play a role in answering future questions, bringing us closer to an enriched understanding of ourselves.

The Brain's Hidden World

Cosmos of Consciousness, Daniela Gamba

The microscopic realm reveals the brain's basic components. Comprehending these basic parts informs our understanding of the system itself. Topics of study include circuits, cell classification, subcellular processes, genetics, epigenetics, and more.

As recently as the late 1800s, the brain was thought to be one singular weblike structure; unrealized was the idea that it was made of single cells.  Santiago Cajal first introduced the concept that the brain contains individual neurons, earning him a Nobel Prize and a place in the hearts of neuroscientists who study the realm he introduced: cellular neuroscience. 

Daniela Gamba


As rivers they curve; as trees they branch. They bud like a flower with circuits aglow, growing in the breeze of thought. 

It is difficult, if not impossible, to fully grasp how anything works without understanding its parts. For the past 130 years, neuroscience has seen a Cambrian explosion of fields and a subsequent manifestation of integrated study. One of these is connectomics.

Connectomics studies the network architecture and dynamics of neurons and other cells in the brain. At the micro scale, it generally integrates three areas:

In general, to map neurons in the brain, the following sequence occurs.

Pyramidal neurons closeup. Anthony Hernandez from Seung Lab reconstructions

A major bottleneck in this process is reconstructing neurons. 

It takes months to generate a dataset yet years to analyze it. 

This is why we build brain mapping games. Citizen science turns the act of mapping neurons into a 3D puzzle. With no neuroscience experience, people around the world have learned to solve these puzzles, thus mapping neurons and advancing the field of connectomics. Ultimately, it brings us closer to understanding the brain. 

This is uncharted territory. Citizen scientists in our first project, Eyewire, discovered 6 new types of neurons in the retina and reconstructed previously unknown circuits, potentially aiding the quest for cures to vision-related disorders. From the retina to the...

Cortex. Between 2020 and 2022,  a new brain mapping game will invite the world to solve puzzles alongside cutting-edge AI to reconstruct about 100,000 neurons and find 1 billion synapses.  We don't know what we will uncover, except that much of it will be new and novel. If you'd like to help, you can prepare for launch by playing Eyewire as neuron-mapping skills are transferable. 

To learn more about the science of brain mapping or for a crash course in Neuroscience, check out the additional pages below. If you have questions, ideas, or other comments, you can reach us at

Neurons 101

The Brain 101

How to Map Neurons

Artificial Intelligence

Eyewire, the first Citizen Science Project of Seung Lab


Eyewire Cell Museum

Nurro Gallery

Play Eyewire