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Allen Institute leaders share Big Science vision

Allen Institute
Allen Institute executives say their operation can serve as a model for future research.

Big Science, Team Science, Open Science: In this week’s issue of Neuron, two top executives at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science lay out a manifesto for the future of large research projects.

Christof Koch, the institute’s president and chief scientific officer, joins forces with President and CEO Allan Jones to explain why they think the approach developed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen provides a model for understanding the brain, the genome and other scientifically complex phenomena.

“One gifted professor working with her graduate student and post-doctoral fellow in isolation will not tame the vast beast that is the genome and the brain,” they write.

Instead, they point to the team approach that’s best exemplified by the legions of physicists who contributed to the discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, and the detection of crashing black holes by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

Big Neuroscience isn’t yet in the same league as Big Physics: The LHC’s experimental groups add up to more than 10,000 scientists and engineers, while a mere 100 researchers contribute to the Allen Brain Observatory. Nevertheless, Koch and Jones say they’re learning important lessons from the institute’s experiments in Team Science.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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