Spencer Smith in the Lab
Credit: Smith Lab

About Spencer

Spencer LaVere Smith is an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Spencer received his BS in Physics & Mathematics from the University of Iowa and his PhD in Neuroscience & Neuroengineering from UC Los Angeles. He’s received the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (2019), McKnight Technological Innovation Award (2015), a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship (2013), and a Human Frontier Science Program Career Development Award (2012) for his work.


  • Optics & Imaging A & B
  • Neuroengineering: Measuring & Manipulating Neural Activity

Why UC Santa Barbara?

The Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering isn’t the most common home for a neuroscientist, but the faculty (who are amazing by any metric; Nobel prizes, National Academies, etc.) have been tremendously supportive and interested in our lab’s work. We have several ongoing collaborations, and there are research programs that dovetail with our own, including work in deep learning/AI; neuromorphic engineering; imaging/image processing, and photonics.

There’s no other R1 institution in a setting like UC Santa Barbara. The campus is built next to the Pacific ocean; I can see the ocean and mountains from my office and it’s a five minute walk to the beach from the lab. Plus, the campus is compact: the physics, biology, psychology, engineering, and chemistry buildings are all a short walk away, making impromptu meetings easy and frequent.

In certain applications, including visual navigation, evolved neural circuitry blows the doors off of anything human-made in terms of performance, robustness, and efficiency. Neural circuitry can teach us a lot about computation, but we need new tools and techniques to reveal its mechanisms.

Spencer Smith, Electrical and Computer Engineering
UC Santa Barbara


Smith’s research uses state-of-the-art imaging, electrophysiology, and quantitative behavior to reverse engineer neural circuitry. His lab has developed novel multiphoton imaging instrumentation to measure neuronal activity with cellular and synaptic resolution across multiple brain areas simultaneously. This research is providing insights into the principles of neural circuitry, and the fundamental computational mechanisms of brain function.

The Smith Lab (SLAB) is a hybrid engineering and neuroscience lab. Half of the lab builds tools and technology for measuring and manipulating neural activity with cellular and subcellular resolution in behaving animals. The other half of the lab uses those same tools and technologies to perform experiments and gain mechanistic insights into neural circuitry.

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