Marc Sommer works with circuits, but not the ones that involve wires, microchips or capacitors. Instead, Sommer, the W.H. Gardner, Jr. Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University, explores the circuits that make up the body’s most complex organ—the brain. The brain is made up of 86 billion neurons, and these cells communicate via electrical and chemical signals. They are responsible for controlling everything from the simple act of blinking to the still-mysterious task of processing memories. Researchers and physicians have long been working on ways to decode these signals, with approaches ranging from directly measuring electrical activity in individual neurons to creating sensors that flash when many neurons are activated.
In his lab at Duke, Sommer combines his expertise in neuroscience, engineering, and neurobiology to study how neurons across different brain areas can talk to each other, and how these circuits enable us to think, move and perceive the world.