Neurodata Without Borders project

The “Neurodata without Borders – Cellular Neurophysiology" initiative aims to develop a common data format for neurophysiology data. This one-year project was initiated by the Kavli Foundation and is supported by Kavli, GE, Janelia Farm, Allen Brain Institute, and INCF.

The Neurodata without Borders – Cellular Neurophysiology initiative is a one-year project that aims to produce a unified data format for cellular-based neurophysiology data based on representative use cases, initially from four laboratories: the Buzsaki group at NYU, the Svoboda group at Janelia Farm, the Meister group at Caltech, and the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.


The goal for Neurodata Without Borders (NWB) is to develop a common, integrated data format for neurophysiology, which is sufficiently flexible and extensible to incorporate present and future electrophysiological and optical physiology data (i.e. cellular imaging) and to include complex metadata related to stimuli and behavior. The stored information will include metadata (experimental variables), processed data (e.g. spike times, behavioral events), intermediate level data (e.g. local field potential, spike waveforms, position data), and wide-band raw data for enabling reproducibility and cross-validation. The metadata will be based on an expansible, yet controlled vocabulary, using the public neuro-ontology NeuroLex (which is supported by INCF and NIF). The HDF5 standard is a strong candidate for a structured data container, likely to be chosen as an element of the new common data format.  


The NWB project started in August 2014 and has three stages, each scheduled to last four months. Stage 1 is to gather example data sets and making them available at, develop requirements documents for the data sets, and to define metrics to evaluate performance of various data formats. Stage 2 is to invite proposals from data model designers, vendors of data formats, and developers to propose formats for storing data based on the example data sets and to select a common format. Stage 3 is to develop software to implement and use the common format. The first major meeting, a three-day hackathon, was held on November 20-22 at Janelia Farm.

Connection to INCF

The Electrophysiology Task Force of the INCF Program on Standards for Data Sharing has a HDF5 Working Group which developed a set of requirements for a standard for storing neurophysiology data. These requirements were originally intended to be for an HDF5 based format, but they are applicable to any storage method and are not particular to any set of experimental species.The NWB project is using these requirements as a starting point and augmenting them with additional experiment-specific requirements based on the use cases for rodent neurophysiology supplied by the project partners. The leaders of the NWB project are also leaders of the Task Force and the Working Group (Fritz Sommer and Jeff Teeters) and many participants in the INCF HDF5 working group are also participating in the NWB project. In addition, INCF is one of the project's supporters, together with the Kavli Foundation, General Electric, Janelia Farm, and Allen Institute for Brain Science

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Neurodata Without Borders project webpage

Meeting report from the Neurodata Without Borders hackathon, November 20–22, 2014, at Janelia Farm, in Ashburn, Virginia.

Article from the Kavli Foundation on Neurodata Without Borders, published summer 2014.

Contacts at INCF:

Mathew Abrams

Jeff Teeters and Fritz Sommer (INCF US Node)