Neurons are the building blocks of life and researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology are working to build these from the ground up.  

Moumita Das is a theoretical physicist that has been working on connecting physics and biology for several years. Now she has a goal to solve the building blocks of life. 

While she focuses on physics, she says neurons involve many aspects of science. “Nature doesn’t care about the boundary between disciplines,” said Das. 

She is one of seven that are working to build a Synthethic neuron. “We want to understand the rules of life by building synthetic cells,” said Das. 

This will help develop a better knowledge of how these brain cells work. Equations show how we can design a neuron that sends signals to other neurons to do calculations. 

“All we want our synthetic neuron to do is so that it can take signals from its surroundings, chemical signals for example, and convert those signals into an electrical signal.” 

A simple neuron calculation would only be scratching the surface of what a human brain does, but it opens the door to designing a neuron that could have the potential to heal, for example, a damaged spinal cord. 

This neuron could also be used in artificial intelligence. Das says that she and her team are all focused on ethics and there is even a bioethicist on the team that they regularly consult. “We are not doing this because we want an enhanced brain, or an artificial brain,” said Das. 

One of the many goals optical neuron that can connect to a neural network. It could calculate like a brain, a system that has perfected the cell over millions of years. This group wants to do it by 2023. 

The project is funded by a $570,000 grant paid by the National Science Foundation and is collaborating with several other colleges around the country.