Inaugural meeting

The first meeting of the Neuroinformatics Working Group

The first meeting of the WG was on Thursday, October 5th. The focus of the meeting was to get to know each other, to brainstorm about the kinds of things that we might do together during the course of the quarter, and to make

The meeting started with everyone introducing themselves. We had about 20 participants, from a variety of career stages (from freshman students to professors and research staff!) and a variety of departments (neuroscience, biomedical and health informatics, biology, computer science and engineering, …).

We divided into small groups to discuss:

  1. What we were hoping to do during the quarter and further

  2. What we think “neuroinformatics” is.

The latter question brought up a few interesting discussion points.

Defining neuroinformatics

One of the topics for discussion in smaller groups was the definition of neuroinformatics. Some of the things that came up:

  • What is the distinction between neuroinformatics and bioinformatics? One of the important distinctions seems to be the tackling of spatial and temporal aspects of neural data, which are fundamental to neuroinformatics. In contrast, bioinformatics primarily deals with molecular sequence data. The considerations, tools and techniques are therefore quite different.

  • What is the distinction between neuroinformatics and computational neuroscience? One important distinction seems to be the domains of expertise that are required in neuroinformatics, which include such things as data management and data visualization. My own personal take on this distinction is that computational neuroscience is about understanding the computational principles that govern brain activity and its relationship to behavior, while neuroinformatics is primarily about using computational tools to understand the brain. Of course, computational neuroscience often uses neuroinformatics in its practice, but there are other disciplines of neuroscience (e.g., clinical neuroscience) that may care less about the computational details of the algorithms implemented by neural circuits, but still require computation to analyze their data.

  • In contrast to some other cognate disciplines, neuroinformatics focuses on technical tools and methodologies, rather than specific scientific questions related to the brain.

  • A point that came up several times is that neuroinformatics is about dealing with large data-sets. This also emphasizes the importance of data management and data base systems in our future discussions.