Senses, Signals and Behavior

Larry F. Abbott, PhD
William Bloor Professor of Theoretical Neuroscience and Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics (in Biological Sciences); Principal Investigator at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute

Dr. Larry Abbott in front of a whiteboard

“I see theoretical models as going hand in hand with experiments in a back-and-forth process.”

Larry Abbott, PhD is building computer models to help us understand how large groups of neurons work together to perceive and respond to the world around us.

His research involves the computational modeling and mathematical analysis of neurons and neural networks. Analytic techniques and computer simulation are used to study how single neurons respond to their many synaptic inputs, how neurons interact to produce functioning neural circuits, and how large populations of neurons represent, store, and process information. Areas of particular interest include spike-timing dependent forms of synaptic plasticity, transformations of sensory encoding in olfaction, and the dynamics of internally generated activity and signal propagation in large neural networks.

Most neural activity is generated internally but nervous systems are nevertheless highly sensitive to external influences such as sensory stimuli. We study how stimulus driven and internally generative activity interact and combine to produce responses.  We also model how chaotic ongoing activity can be harnessed and controlled to produce useful motor output.  We are interested in representing perception not as a passive analysis of sensory input, but as a dynamic process that involves modeling the external world, making inferences about predictable events and noting when something unexpected happens.  This requires both representing sensory stimuli and modifying ongoing activity through synaptic plasticity.

About the
Lindahl Lecture

Sten Lindahl addressing the Nobel assembly

The Lindahl Lecture was founded in 2013 in honor of Dr. Sten Lindahl, Chair Emeritus of the Nobel Committee in Physiology or Medicine, Professor Emeritus at Karolinska Institutet, and the kindest, most amazing man you’ll ever meet.

The Napa Pain Conference Lindahl Lecture honors scientific pioneers modeling the traits of curiosity, vision and good humor. 

In keeping with our mission, admission to the Lindahl Lectures are free to all students and researchers with interests in the sciences, innovation and clinical advancement.

2016   Dr. Kevin J. Tracey
The Future of Bioelectronic Medicine

2015   Nobel Prize Winner
Dr. Bruce Beutler

2014   Dr. Robert Langer

2013   Dr. Sten Lindahl
Chair Emeritus, the Nobel Committee in Physiology or Medicine