Sebastian Seung

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H. Sebastian Seung
EducationHarvard University (PhD)
Hebrew University of Jerusalem (PostDoc)
Known forConnectome Theory
Non-negative matrix factorization
AwardsSloan Fellowship
Scientific career
InstitutionsPrinceton University
Bell Labs
ThesisPhysics of Lines and Surfaces (1990)
Doctoral advisorDavid Robert Nelson
Korean name
Revised RomanizationSeung Hyeonjun
McCune–ReischauerSŭng Hyŏnchun

Hyunjune Sebastian Seung (Hangul승현준; Hanja承現峻;[1]) is a Korean American multi-disciplinary expert whose research efforts have spanned the fields of neuroscience, physics and bioinformatics. He was a professor of Computational Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is now a professor at Princeton University.[2] He also was an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.[3]


Seung studied theoretical physics at Harvard University where he obtained his Ph.D. degree under the supervision of David Robert Nelson. Seung's doctoral dissertation is entitled "Physics of Lines and Surfaces."[4] He completed his postdoctoral training at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Before joining the MIT faculty, he was a member of the Theoretical Physics Department at Bell Laboratories.

Seung leads a team working on an online Citizen science project named EyeWire. It is human-based computation game about tracing neurons in the retina. The game was developed by MIT and the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research.[5]

The Connectome Theory[edit]

The connectome is the map of neural connections within the brain. Seung focuses his attention on the potential implications of the Human Connectome Project and what it would mean to map the connectome of a human. Seung has been able to popularize the Connectome Theory through his 2010 Ted Conference speech titled “I Am My Connectome” as well as through his book Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are [6] released in 2012.

"I Am My Connectome" [edit]

In his 2010 Ted Conference speech, Seung hypothesizes that the essence of a human being is its connectome. The complexities and vast amount of neural connections in the human brain has slowed the complete mapping of the human connectome. This is in comparison to the only completely mapped connectome to date, that of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a process that took over 12 years to complete despite the animal's hermaphrodite form only having a total of 302 neurons in its entire nervous system.[7] Seung proposes that a connectome is like a riverbed. As the water of a river, neural activity is constantly changing, never staying still. The connectome is the riverbed which both guides the neural activity while also being shaped by the water over time. Illustrating how thinking and neural activity alters the connectome adding to the difficulty of mapping the human connectome that is constantly changing.

Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are [edit]

In his 2012 book Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, Seung discusses his current views on neuroscience and the upcoming science of connectomics. The book expands on some of the concepts discussed in his Ted talk as well as discussing how the doctrine of the connectome can be tested. He states that in order to test and further our knowledge and unlock to potential of the connectome we must improve the scientific tools in existence. Also, he states that there needs to be new ways to promote the concept of the connectome using the four R’s: reweighting, reconnection, rewiring, and regeneration.[6]

Publications and Books[edit]

His algorithms for nonnegative matrix factorization have been widely applied to problems in visual learning, semantic analysis, spectroscopy, and bioinformatics. He continues to study neural networks using mathematical models, computer algorithms, and circuits of biological neurons in vitro.

He authored a book, Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, released in February 2012.

Awards and honors[edit]

He has been a Sloan Research Fellow, a Packard Fellow, and a McKnight Scholar. He has published numerous scholarly papers.


He is the son of the philosopher, T. K. Seung.


  1. ^ (Korean)
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Mathematics Genealogy Project
  5. ^ "About << EyeWire". Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Seung, Sebastian (2012). Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are (1 ed.). New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. ISBN 9780547678597.
  7. ^ White, J. G.; Southgate, E.; Thomson, J. N.; Brenner, S. (1986). "The Structure of the Nervous System of the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 314 (1165): 1–340. JSTOR 2990196.


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