Computing with Living Neurons

Fall 2022

The National Science Foundation awarded a seven-year, $15 million project  to a multi-university team led by The Grainger College of Engineering.  “Mind in Vitro – Computing with Living Neurons” will imagine computers  and robots that are human designed, but living.

The project is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Expeditions in Computing program, which was created more than a decade ago by the NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

This expedition – just one of two awarded this year – will seek answers to a  host of new and fundamental questions: Can computing systems be built out  of living neurons? Can they achieve basic hallmarks of cognition such as learning, attention, curiosity or creativity, so pervasive in biology yet elusive in modern computing? How do we design and fabricate the envisioned “wetware?” How  do we understand its language? How do we think of software in terms of  emergence rather than prescribed logic?

The resulting technology will have profound, lasting impact in virtually every field related to information processing, robotics, health and medicine, with deep ramification across human knowledge.

The project is led by Professors Nancy Amato (Head of the Department of Computer Science and Abel Bliss Professor), Mattia Gazzola (Mechanical Science & Engineering) and Taher Saif (Gutgsell Professor in Mechanical Science & Engineering). The team  also includes Professors Rashid Bashir (Bioengineering, Dean and Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering), Karin Dahmen (Physics), Hyunjoon Kong (Chemical & Biological Engineering), Lawrence Rauchwerger (Computer Science), Sepideh Sadaghiani (Psychology), Josep Torrellas (Saburo Muroga Professor of Computer Science) and Lav Varshney (Electrical & Computer Engineering),  as well as collaborators at Indiana University, Northwestern University,  Stanford University, and University of North Carolina Greensboro.

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This story was published September 19, 2022.

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