Optoelectronic committee

Professor Simon Laughlin FRS

Simon Laughlin is Emeritus Professor of Neurobiology, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. He is a neurobiologist who studies the design principles that govern the structure and function of neurons and neural circuits in a wide variety of animals, from flies to humans.

His research combines an empirical approach with modelling. Starting with a simpler system, the visual systems of flies, Simon and his colleagues measure molecular and cellular mechanisms — such as ion channels, membranes, synapses, neurons, circuits and codes — that combine to determine the ability of neural circuits to process information. They then model this processing, using approaches developed in statistical physics, biophysics and information theory, to discover how these mechanisms are organised to optimise performance.

Simon’s approach discovers design principles that apply to many brains because they are deeply rooted in biophysics, cell biology and information theory. Thus, by working on flies’ eyes, Simon has discovered how the human eye and brain are designed to process information efficiently. These discoveries go some way to explain how a brain that weighs 1.5 kilograms and uses as much energy as a domestic light bulb outperforms a supercomputer.