SCGB: Leadership

Executive Committee

David Tank

David W. Tank, Ph.D.


David W. Tank is the Henry L. Hillman Professor in Molecular Biology at Princeton University and co-director of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. He also directs the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics.

Dr. Tank earned his B.S. in physics and mathematics at Case Western Reserve University in 1976 and a Ph.D. degree in physics from Cornell University in 1983. From 1983 to 2001, he was a research scientist at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ, becoming a Bell Laboratories Fellow in 1999. From 1991 to 2001, he served as department head of the Biological Computation Research Department at Bell Labs. In 2001, he moved to Princeton University, becoming a founding co-director of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute in 2005. His research interests include the measurement, analysis and modeling of neural circuit dynamics. At Bell Laboratories, he contributed to the development of attractor network models of neural decision making, the development of functional MRI imaging, and the development of cellular resolution optical imaging of neural dynamics. More recently, his work has focused on the mechanisms of persistent neural activity, and the development and application of rodent virtual reality systems combined with optical imaging and electrophysiology to study neural circuit dynamics during navigation.

Dr. Tank has received several awards and honors for his research, including election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the W. Alden Spencer Award from Columbia University, the Lawrence C. Katz Prize from Duke University, and the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research.

Larry Abbott

Larry Abbott, Ph.D.

Executive Committee

Larry Abbott is the William Bloor Professor of Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University. He received his PhD in physics from Brandeis University in 1977, and worked in theoretical particle physics at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, CERN, the European center for particle physics, and Brandeis. Abbott began his transition to neuroscience research in 1989, joined the Biology Department at Brandeis in 1993 and was the director of the Volen Center at Brandeis from 1997-2002. In 2005, he joined the faculty of Columbia University where he is currently a member of the Departments of Neuroscience and of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics and co-director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. Abbott is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a recipient of an NIH Directors Pioneer Award, and was awarded the Swartz Prize for Theoretical Neuroscience in 2010 and the Mathematical Neuroscience Prize in 2013. His research involves the computational modeling and mathematical analysis of neurons and neural networks.

Dora Angelaki

Dora Angelaki, Ph.D.

Executive Committee

Dora Angelaki is the Wilhelmina Robertson Professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, with a joint appointment in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Psychology, Rice University. She holds diploma and Ph.D. degrees in electrical and biomedical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, and the University of Minnesota. Her general area of interest is computational, cognitive and systems neuroscience. Within this broad field, she specializes in the neural mechanisms of spatial perception and navigation using rodents, humans and non-human primates as a model. She is interested in neural coding and how complex, cognitive behavior is produced by neuronal populations. Dr. Angelaki’s research focuses on understanding how multisensory information flows between subcortical and cortical brain areas, as well as the spatial navigation, decision-making and episodic memory circuits, and how internal states modulate this information flow. Her lab uses innovative approaches to explore and understand neural dynamics and network coding of multisensory and multimodal information at multiple stages of processing under diverse naturalistic and perceptual contexts related to navigation, planning and perceptual decisions. Her lab is interested in the neural implementation of canonical neural computations and how they go astray to result in sensory, motor, memory and cognitive deficits in diseases like autism and schizophrenia. The goal of the lab is to use this knowledge to understand computational principles of disease, to inspire artificial systems and to aid the development of prosthetics and other tools for understanding and treating deficits of sensory coding, spatial orientation, cognition and action. Dr. Angelaki has received the inaugural Pradel Research Award in Neuroscience from the National Academy of Sciences (2012), the Grass Lectureship from the Society of Neuroscience (2011), the Hallpike-Nylen medal from the Bárány Society (2006) and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (1996). In 2014, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Adrienne Fairhall, Ph.D.

Executive Committee

Adrienne Fairhall is an associate professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington, director of the university’s computational neuroscience program, and co-director of its Institute for Neuroengineering. She obtained her honors degree in theoretical physics from the Australian National University and a Ph.D. in statistical physics in the lab of Itamar Procaccia at the Weizmann Institute of Science. She received her postdoctoral training at the NEC Research Institute with Bill Bialek and at Princeton University with Michael J. Berry II. She has directed the Marine Biological Laboratory course Methods in Computational Neuroscience. Fairhall is a recipient of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award and the McKnight Scholar Award and was a 2013 Allen Distinguished Investigator.

Fairhall’s work focuses on dynamic neural computation, with an emphasis on the interplay between cellular and circuit dynamics and coding. She develops theoretical approaches to understanding processing in nervous systems. She collaborates closely with experimental labs to uncover algorithms of information processing in a variety of sensory systems, including the retina, the somatosensory cortex, and areas performing visual motion detection, and in a range of other systems, from single neurons to foraging mosquitoes to navigating primates. Fairhall is interested in general methods for building reduced models for neural computation in terms of relevant features from a complex input. The methods she is exploring start both from experimental data and from biophysical descriptions of neural dynamics. She aims to relate the functional models determined by spiking data directly with the underlying channel dynamics. The brain is a highly adaptive organ, assimilating and adjusting to changes in the environment on a multiplicity of temporal and spatial scales. Thus, the neural code of several systems has been shown to be adaptive to changes in the statistical distribution of the inputs. In her work, she is seeking to elucidate how such adaptation may be beneficial for neural information processing, and she is exploring potential mechanisms underlying adaptation to statistics at the level of single-neuron computation.

J. Anthony Movshon

J. Anthony Movshon, Ph.D.

Executive Committee

J. Anthony Movshon studies vision and visual perception, using a multidisciplinary approach that combines biology, behavior and theory. His work explores the way neural networks in the brain compute and represent the form and motion of objects and scenes, the way that these networks contribute to perceptual judgments and to the control of visually guided action, and the way that normal and abnormal visual experiences influence neural development in early life.

Movshon was born and raised in New York, received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and then joined the Department of Psychology at New York University in 1975. In 1987, he became founding director of New York University’s Center for Neural Science. Among his honors are the Young Investigator Award from the Society for Neuroscience, the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics, the António Champalimaud Vision Award, the Karl Spencer Lashley Award from the American Philosophical Society, and the Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Bill Newsome

Bill Newsome, Ph.D.

Executive Committee

Bill Newsome is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and professor of neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He received a B.S. degree in physics from Stetson University and a Ph.D. in biology from the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Newsome is a leading investigator in systems and cognitive neuroscience. He has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying visual perception and simple forms of decision making. Among his honors are the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics, the W. Alden Spencer Award, Columbia University, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the Dan David Prize of Tel Aviv University, the Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society and the António Champalimaud Vision Award. His distinguished lectureships include the 13th Annual Marr Lecture at the University of Cambridge, the 9th Annual Brenda Milner Lecture at McGill University and, most recently, the Distinguished Visiting Scholar lectures at the Kavli Institute of Brain and Mind, University of California, San Diego. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and to the American Philosophical Society in 2011.

Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D.

Executive Comittee

Chief Scientist of the Simons Foundation and Fellow of the Simons Foundation

Dr. Fischbach joined the Simons Foundation in 2006 to oversee the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, and is now the foundation’s first chief scientist and its first fellow. Formerly dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences at Columbia University, and director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health from 1998-2001, Fischbach received his M.D. degree in 1965 from Cornell University Medical School and interned at the University of Washington Hospital in Seattle. He began his research career at the National Institutes of Health, serving from 1966-1973. He subsequently served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, first as associate professor of pharmacology from 1973-1978 and then as professor until 1981. From 1981-1990, Fischbach was the Edison professor of neurobiology and head of the department of anatomy and neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine. In 1990, he returned to Harvard Medical School where he was the Nathan Marsh Pusey professor of neurobiology and chairman of the neurobiology departments of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital until 1998.

Throughout his career, Fischbach has studied the formation and maintenance of synapses, the contacts between nerve cells and their targets through which information is transferred in the nervous system. He pioneered the use of nerve cell cultures to study the electrophysiology, morphology and biochemistry of developing nerve-muscle and inter-neuronal synapses. His current research is focused on roles that neurotrophic factors play in determination of neural precursor fate, synapse formation and neuronal survival.

Fischbach is a past president of the Society of Neuroscience and serves on several medical and scientific advisory boards. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a former non-resident fellow of the Salk Institute.

Scientific Staff

Alyssa Picchini Schaffer, Ph.D.

Alyssa Picchini Schaffer, Ph.D.

Scientific Officer

Alyssa Picchini Schaffer is a scientific officer at the Simons Foundation, where she manages the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB). The SCGB aims to expand our understanding of internal brain processes through computational approaches and cutting-edge experimental technologies in order to discover the nature, role and mechanisms of neural activity that produce cognition. Picchini Schaffer is a neuroscientist and science communicator with an exceptionally diverse background and expertise in neural stem cell biology, pharmacology, policy and media across business, government and academic sectors. She is passionate about fostering collaboration among multidisciplinary teams to address significant questions in neuroscience. Before joining the foundation, Picchini Schaffer was scientific director of TEDMED, an independent division of TED focused on science, health and medicine. She earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University and is an alumna of the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship and Lafayette College.


Kim Scobie, Ph.D.

Scientific Associate

Before coming to the Simons Foundation in 2015, Kim Scobie was the basic science research project manager at the Children’s Tumor Foundation, where she implemented, oversaw and managed basic science projects and initiatives. Before that, Scobie was a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. During her fellowship, she studied the contribution of epigenetics to the development and persistence of addiction-like behaviors in mice, publishing 10 papers on the topic over her three years there. As scientific associate, she works closely with the collaboration’s leadership to support and manage its efforts. Scobie holds a B.S. in biology from Fairfield University in Connecticut and a Ph.D. in molecular, cellular and biophysical studies from Columbia University, where she focused on the neuroscience of learning and memory.