In recent years, interest has grown in the ability to manipulate, in a temporally precise fashion, the electrical activity of specific neurons embedded within densely wired brain circuits, in order to reveal how specific neurons subserve behaviors and neural computations, and to open up new horizons on the clinical treatment of brain disorders. Technologies that enable temporally precise control of electrical activity of specific neurons, and not these neurons’ neighbors — whose cell bodies or processes might be just tens to hundreds of nanometers away — must involve two components. First, they require as a trigger a transient pulse of energy that supports the temporal precision of the control. Second, they require a molecular sensitizer that can be expressed in specific neurons and which renders those neurons specifically responsive to the triggering energy delivered. Optogenetic tools, such as microbial opsins, can be used to activate or silence neural activity with brief pulses of light. Thermogenetic tools, such as thermosensitive TRP channels, can be used to drive neural activity downstream of increases or decreases in temperature. We here discuss the principles underlying the operation of these two recently developed, but widely used, toolboxes, as well as the directions being taken in the use and improvement of these toolboxes.