Kavli NDI


With experts in fields of study spanning brain matter to dark matter, Kavli NDI scientists are working together to apply a transdisciplinary approach to neuroscience research that will revolutionize our understanding of the brain.

“As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away and we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”
President Barack Obama,
April 2013

A large cluster of galaxies dating from the early universe until the present day. The gravitational collapse of dark matter forms a filamentary structure, while normal, luminous matter appears clustered into glowing galaxies that are found along the filaments of the dark matter cosmic web.

Image credit: Ralf Kaehler, Oliver Hahn and Tom Abel (KIPAC).

Brain cells extend elaborate dendritic and axonal processes to form networks that allow for communication between interconnected cells. These cortical neurons were grown for 12 days in a culture dish and labeled with Nissl (magenta: nucleic acids), phalloidin (blue: actin filaments), and wheat germ agglutinin (cyan: glycoconjugates on cell membranes).

Image credit: Natasha K. Hussain, Huaqiang Fang, Hana Goldschmidt, and Bian Liu (Kavli NDI).
“As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away and we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”
President Barack Obama,
April 2013


To advance neuroscience discovery by uniting neuroscience, engineering and computational data science to understand the structure and function of the brain.


    • The goal of the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute (Kavli NDI) is to unite the scientific enterprise at Johns Hopkins University to study the brain and to establish the global standard for integrative neuroscience research. Kavli NDI combines multiple scales of analyses across traditionally distinct research disciplines, be that the study of single molecules in a neuron, or the emergent patterns of cortical columnar dynamics, to address the most challenging questions in neuroscience. 


    • The human brain is the most complex and adaptive computing system ever discovered. With 100 billion neurons that each form ~10,000 separately modifiable synapses, the ability of this rich synaptic array to process information is enormous. From this complexity comes the essence of the human species: who we are, our memories, our emotions, our intelligence and our creativity. There is no more compelling scientific question than to understand how the nervous system underlies human behavior.

      The Kavli NDI vision for understanding neuroscience and cognition emanates from fact the brain is comprised of individual cells patterned together to form neural network motifs. While each individuals brain architecture conserves some motifs, such as cortical columns, our brains are distinct in others, such as nuclei. With these unique variances, our brains reflect with exquisite complexity who we are as individuals. This notion is symbolically represented with our logo which is inspired by the Penrose tile. Penrose tiles are a set of simple shapes that can be organized to form infinitely non-repeating patterns into complex structures found both in design (e.g. architecture) and in nature (e.g. quasicrystals). 

      The Kavli NDI is a dynamic, multidisciplinary institute comprised of neuroscientists, engineers, and data scientists. Together, our vision is to interrogate the inner workings of the brain across broad spatial and temporal scales to understand how neurobiology ultimately reflects the essence of who we are. 


    • The stage has been set for exponential growth in our understanding of the brain. In the last 25 years there has been an incredible expansion of knowledge regarding the molecular components of the brain, the development of remarkable new technologies to measure, image and manipulate the brain, as well as dramatic enhancement in computational capacities that give us the ability to define the structure, function and malleability of discrete brain circuits. One daunting aspect of this extraordinary opportunity in brain research is the sheer volume, variety, and complexity of modern neuroscientific data.

      Answering the questions that are most important, those that illuminate how the mind emerges from the nervous system, is no longer achievable by a single individual or lab, or even by a single department or center. Rather, novel insights will come from establishing deep, long-lasting, transdisciplinary collaborations that combine the efforts of scientists with diverse expertise to understand the emergent behaviors of systems as complex as the human brain. Kavli NDI at Johns Hopkins has the scientific depth, traditions, and infrastructure to reveal how neural information is processed at multiple scales to enable cognition and behavior.