In June of 2007, Albert Tsao, a nineteen-year-old native of Silver Spring, Maryland, was working in Trondheim, Norway, at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience. Tsao was a summer intern in the lab of May-Britt and Edvard Moser, married researchers who were well known in neurobiology circles for discovering “grid cells”—neurons that, by tracking our position, create a navigational map in the brain. Grid cells are located in an area of the brain called the medial entorhinal cortex. Tsao was curious about the relatively uncharted region next door—the lateral entorhinal cortex, or L.E.C. After implanting tiny electrodes in the L.E.C.s of some rats, he set them foraging for bits of chocolate cereal in a series of boxes, some black, some white. He recorded the electrical spikes buzzing from individual neurons, hoping to spot a pattern. When no clear signal emerged, he put the data aside.

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