[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We have designed a versatile, multi-channel near-infrared spectrophotometry (NIRS) instrument for the purpose of mapping neuronal activation in the neonatal and adult brain in response to motor, tactile, and visual stimulation. The optical linearity, stability, and high signal to noise ratio (>70 dB) of the instrument were demonstrated using an in vitro validation procedure. In vivo measurements on the adult forearm were also performed. Changes in oxygenation, induced by arterial occlusion of the forearm, were recorded and were shown to compare well with measurements acquired using a conventional NIRS instrument. To demonstrate the capabilities of the instrument, functional measurements in adults and neonates were performed. The instrument exhibited the capability to differentiate with a spatial resolution in the order of cm, local activation patterns associated with a finger tapping sequence.