Ed Boyden

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Leading Neuroengineer Focused on Mapping the Brain to Cure Mental Illness and Neurological Disorders; Professor, MIT Media Lab and MIT McGovern Institute; Strategic Innovation Thinker & Expert on Leading Teams Where There Are No Rules

Biography

The human brain is more mysterious and unknown than outer space or the deepest depths of the ocean. At the forefront of the journey to the center of the brain, Ed Boyden of the MIT Media Lab and McGovern Institute is piloting the ship of exploration. This scientific prodigy is launching life-changing opportunities within and outside of the medical field, leading a team whose groundbreaking research could potentially eradicate degenerative diseases afflicting billions across the world. In the process, Boyden has discovered new approaches to innovating and leading teams, rebooting failed ideas in the context of novel fields, engineering serendipitous connections between concepts and finding surprisingly simple solutions to highly complex problems.

A technological innovator and entrepreneur (he co-founded Cognito Therapeutics, which designs visual and auditory stimuli that could treat Alzheimer’s patients), Boyden offers a practical framework and valuable lessons to business leaders about how to pave a path through boundaries of the unknown. He draws from his own experiences; his accomplishments, such as his recent invention of expansion microscopy, necessitated a radical new way of analyzing problems, and an ability to rethink and break with established practices. Boyden is adept at communicating the methods he uses as a scientist to a business audience unfamiliar with scientific language. The emphasis in such presentations is less on the specifics and more on the approach: a willingness to take risks and develop innovative solutions. Boyden’s advances in neurobiology – which are also being applied to cancer, HIV and tuberculosis – are a blueprint for disruptive innovation in any field.

Beyond his lessons on innovating where there are no precedents, Boyden is helping the medical profession realize the goal of eradicating the most devastating and heartbreaking brain illnesses. The days of living with such tragic and intractable disorders as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy are hopefully soon to be numbered. His acclaimed TED Talks offer evidence: “A New Way to Study the Brain’s Invisible Secrets” reveals Boyden’s innovative methods for mapping the wiring of the brain, and “A Light Switch for Neurons” shows how to control the brain to discover new targets for treating brain diseases. But it is a testament to Boyden’s ambition that he sees such breakthroughs as only initial goals. In the longer term, Boyden believes by understanding the brain, we can create artificial intelligence (AI) that mimics human ingenuity, ethics and emotion. He’s also confident that such knowledge will lead to fully understanding the roots of our own thoughts and feelings – in short, what it means to be human.

The Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology, Boyden has an extraordinary life story. He entered college at age 14 (and finished at 19) because he wanted to understand the human condition in terms of science, which led to a Stanford PhD whose neurotechnology vision was too radical for most traditional academic research departments. He was lucky to land at the MIT Media Lab, where he founded MIT’s Synthetic Neurobiology group, which develops tools for analyzing and repairing complex biological systems such as the brain, and applies them systematically to reveal how they function and how to repair them. These new tools, which include optogenetics, are starting to be used to map, analyze and control brain circuits, and in turn to transform the future of brain health.

Boyden has contributed to more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and 170 granted patents, and has given more than 400 invited talks on his group’s work. He has been highly honored by his colleagues and by many of the world’s leading scientific bodies. Boyden is the recipient of many of the most important science awards in the world, including: the Perl/UNC Neuroscience Prize (2011), the Grete Lundbeck Brain Prize (2013), the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2013), the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award (2013), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015), the Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences (2015), the Breakthrough Prize in Life Science (2016), and the Canada Gairdner International Award (2018). As a further testament to his scientific achievements, Boyden was named to the World Economic Forum Young Scientist list (2013) and the Technology Review World’s “Top 35 Innovators Under Age 35” list (2006). He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2017).

Ed Boyden is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

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Boyden, Ed

Biography

The human brain is more mysterious and unknown than outer space or the deepest depths of the ocean. At the forefront of the journey to the center of the brain, Ed Boyden of the MIT Media Lab and McGovern Institute is piloting the ship of exploration. This scientific prodigy is launching life-changing opportunities within and outside of the medical field, leading a team whose groundbreaking research could potentially eradicate degenerative diseases afflicting billions across the world. In the process, Boyden has discovered new approaches to innovating and leading teams, rebooting failed ideas in the context of novel fields, engineering serendipitous connections between concepts and finding surprisingly simple solutions to highly complex problems.

A technological innovator and entrepreneur (he co-founded Cognito Therapeutics, which designs visual and auditory stimuli that could treat Alzheimer’s patients), Boyden offers a practical framework and valuable lessons to business leaders about how to pave a path through boundaries of the unknown. He draws from his own experiences; his accomplishments, such as his recent invention of expansion microscopy, necessitated a radical new way of analyzing problems, and an ability to rethink and break with established practices. Boyden is adept at communicating the methods he uses as a scientist to a business audience unfamiliar with scientific language. The emphasis in such presentations is less on the specifics and more on the approach: a willingness to take risks and develop innovative solutions. Boyden’s advances in neurobiology – which are also being applied to cancer, HIV and tuberculosis – are a blueprint for disruptive innovation in any field.

Beyond his lessons on innovating where there are no precedents, Boyden is helping the medical profession realize the goal of eradicating the most devastating and heartbreaking brain illnesses. The days of living with such tragic and intractable disorders as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy are hopefully soon to be numbered. His acclaimed TED Talks offer evidence: “A New Way to Study the Brain’s Invisible Secrets” reveals Boyden’s innovative methods for mapping the wiring of the brain, and “A Light Switch for Neurons” shows how to control the brain to discover new targets for treating brain diseases. But it is a testament to Boyden’s ambition that he sees such breakthroughs as only initial goals. In the longer term, Boyden believes by understanding the brain, we can create artificial intelligence (AI) that mimics human ingenuity, ethics and emotion. He’s also confident that such knowledge will lead to fully understanding the roots of our own thoughts and feelings – in short, what it means to be human.

The Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology, Boyden has an extraordinary life story. He entered college at age 14 (and finished at 19) because he wanted to understand the human condition in terms of science, which led to a Stanford PhD whose neurotechnology vision was too radical for most traditional academic research departments. He was lucky to land at the MIT Media Lab, where he founded MIT’s Synthetic Neurobiology group, which develops tools for analyzing and repairing complex biological systems such as the brain, and applies them systematically to reveal how they function and how to repair them. These new tools, which include optogenetics, are starting to be used to map, analyze and control brain circuits, and in turn to transform the future of brain health.

Boyden has contributed to more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and 170 granted patents, and has given more than 400 invited talks on his group’s work. He has been highly honored by his colleagues and by many of the world’s leading scientific bodies. Boyden is the recipient of many of the most important science awards in the world, including: the Perl/UNC Neuroscience Prize (2011), the Grete Lundbeck Brain Prize (2013), the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2013), the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award (2013), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015), the Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences (2015), the Breakthrough Prize in Life Science (2016), and the Canada Gairdner International Award (2018). As a further testament to his scientific achievements, Boyden was named to the World Economic Forum Young Scientist list (2013) and the Technology Review World’s “Top 35 Innovators Under Age 35” list (2006). He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2017).

Ed Boyden is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Mending the Mind: Ground-Breaking Technology That May Cure Brain Diseases

More than one billion people worldwide suffer from brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, depression, schizophrenia and stroke, often robbing them of their identity and changing how they interact with loved ones. But Ed Boyden believes there is reason to be optimistic about solving such global epidemics.

By enlarging parts of the brain through expansion microscopy and controlling their dynamics through optogenetics, Boyden and his MIT team have analyzed previously unseen details of the organ and prototyped new repair strategies. This work could trigger some of the most important breakthroughs in the history of medical science, extending beyond treating disease to reaching a greater philosophical understanding of how the human mind works, and potentially unlocking unknown mental capabilities that lie buried in our labyrinths of grey matter. In this presentation, Boyden explains how these technologies work, how far he is in the process of realizing his goals and the full impact that such achievements would have for humanity.

Pioneering Innovation When There Are No Rules

Wrestling with incredibly complex problems is par for the course in most industries – from finance to health care, education to strategic management. But it is equally common for firms to go at it blindly, developing products and services without a roadmap or guide on how to do so. Ed Boyden is a scientific prodigy who pursued his life’s work in a field where breakthroughs are rare and much of the discipline remains a mystery: neuroscience. Yet, he’s succeeding.

He built and led a team to develop radical new techniques for mapping and analyzing the brain, potentially ushering in a new era of medical advancement in treating incurable diseases like Alzheimer’s and depression. Often, the solutions were derived from connecting the dots between fields that don’t talk to each other, or were figured out by systematic critical thinking methods. In a culture that is knowledge-rich and wisdom-poor, Boyden leads by teaching methods of creativity and imagination.

The innovative techniques learned by trial and error are applicable to every imaginable industry, says Boyden – not just science and medicine. In this bold, thought-provoking presentation, he reveals a set of rules for pioneering solutions where there are no rules or precedents to follow.

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