Unlike in other fields (i.e. genetics and cell biology), neuroscience does not have a standardized way to collect and share the wealth of existing data among researchers. The lack of a common format has made comparison across laboratories difficult and replication of specific experiments almost impossible, significantly slowing overall progress in the field.
Launched in mid 2014, Neurodata Without Borders: Neurophysiology is a pilot project to produce a unified data format for cellular-based neurophysiology data. The common data format is based on representative use case studies from four laboratories, and the project includes a vetting phase for assessing whether other data models can also be used in the new common format.
The project will share not only the NWB format, but also high-value data sets that have been translated into the new format, as well as a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) for reading and writing the data.
Neurodata Without Borders: Neurophysiology is intended to serve the broad neuroscience community and encourage the sharing of data by scientists worldwide.
The NWB Format
The resulting “NWB” format is designed to be flexible enough to incorporate several kinds of data, including electrophysiological and optical physiology data, and to include complex metadata related to stimuli and behavior.
Goals & Values of the NWB Format
The initial development of NWB:N was funded by industry and private foundations. Scientific partners include the Allen Institute for Brain Science (AIBS), the Svoboda Lab (Janelia), the Meister Lab (Caltech), the Buzsáki Lab (NYU), and Fritz Sommer/Jeff Teeters (UCB, maintainers of CRCNS.org). This one-year pilot project resulted in NWB:N 1.0. AIBS has adopted the use of this format and to date has released numerous NWB:N files assaying mouse visual cortex. NWB:N has also seen steady adoption by individual labs, including the Bouchard lab (LBNL/UCB), Svoboda lab, Meister lab, Frank lab (UCSF), Chang lab (UCSF) and others.
Building on the success of NWB:N 1.0, the project entered a second phase, with additional leadership by Dr. Kris Bouchard (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, LBNL), Dr. Loren Frank (UCSF) and Dr. Edward Chang (UCSF). NWB:N 2.0 was redeveloped by scientific software engineers/computer scientists at LBNL, Dr. Oliver Rübel and Mr. Andrew Tritt, and released in February 2019. New features continue to be added to the software ecosystem surrounding NWB:N 2.0.
The NWB:N project has also created a governance structure. An Executive Board (EB) decides the vision and roadmap for NWB:N and manages fundraising and outreach. The EB also works closely with a Technical Advisory Board (TAB), which makes technical decisions and maintains the software ecosystem.