Newton Howard, Professor of Computational Neurosciences and Neurosurgery at the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, has discovered a functional optical layer in the human neocortex. This new insight into how the brain works may lead to uncovering causes of brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

The recent discovery, published in Springer Nature, shows that a bistable (ie. computable) layer of optical circuitry is functioning within the human neocortex. If true, this would imply that higher-order thought may in fact be optical in nature, rather than electrochemical. A functional optical layer in the human neocortex would explain many mysteries, including the brain’s famous Energy Paradox – the fact that the brain requires only a few watts (barely enough to light a bulb) to operate, while all the energy of a massive hydroelectric dam would be required to power a computer that operated as quickly.

An exciting new project in the field of neuroscience called ni2o is now working on developing the necessary nanotechnology and optoelectronics to probe and drive this newly-discovered optical layer.

Professor Howard commented: ‘Understanding brain function and dysfunction requires a multidisciplinary approach and various methodologies ranging from biology to mathematics. One of the biggest challenges is decoding how the brain and its neurons are structured and how they function. This information is crucial for better understanding normal brain function and possibly uncovering causes of brain disorders.’