Dana Alliance Members in Conversation: A Q&A with Eric Nestler

We spoke to neuroscientist and former Society for Neuroscience president Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., about the bipartisan nature of biomedical research, his hopes for the future of addiction and depression, new findings on stress and depression, and more in the latest Dana Alliance member Q&A. These Q&As are part of a regular series of in-depth interviews that give readers a look into the outreach, research, and interests of the preeminent neuroscientists that make up the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.

On why his institution, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, prioritizes outreach, Nestler said:

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Art in the Eye of the Beholder

The expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” has been used by many since it first appeared in print in the 19th century by writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. Cliché as it may sound, the idea behind this colloquialism—that perception is a subjective experience—is one that researchers are still working to unravel today. We’ve learned that aspects of perception (auditory, time, etc.) can be altered from depression, for example, and that there is a specific part of the brain dedicated solely to facial perception. Now, scientists are looking at differences in personality and how that affects the way a person visually examines a piece of artwork.

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Photo courtesy of James Cook University

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2018 World Science Festival

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The annual World Science Festival is back in New York City, starting May 29 and continuing until June 3. Since 2008, the week-long festival has collectively drawn over 2.5 million visitors from all over the world with the mission of cultivating a general public informed and inspired by science. Offering an exciting series of programs featuring experts spanning science and the arts, the World Science Festival will host discussions, debates, theatrical works, musical performances, and outdoor experiences to take science out of the laboratory and into the streets and parks of New York City.

We’ve covered their brain-related events in the past featuring Dana Alliance members, TV celebrities, renowned journalists, and many more. This year, events will uncover everything from black holes in space to cells in the human microbiome that can be linked to debilitating brain diseases. Neuroscientists Nim Tottenham, Ph.D., and Carla Shatz, who are both Dana Alliance members, will be guest speakers alongside Alvaro Pascual-Leone at the May 29 event: “The Nuts and Bolts of Better Brains: Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity.” Tottenham and Pascual-Leone were also featured authors of two Cerebrum articles last year on emotional development and brain enhancers.

We will be attending events throughout that week, so be sure to check in for detailed coverage. If you haven’t already, look through the 2018 event list and buy your tickets! They sell out fast.

2018 Brain Awareness Video Contest

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Thanks to a growing Brain Awareness Week partnership, we know there are many people out there who are passionate about educating the public about the brain. The Brain Awareness Video Contest, sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), provides a wonderful opportunity to reach even more people, and to develop something unique and creative.

Due June 14, these videos must describe a neuroscience concept in less than five minutes, in a fun and captivating way. Anyone can enter! And on top of the sense of accomplishment, the top three winners and the People’s Choice winner receive cash prizes. The first-place winner will also receive a free trip to this year’s SfN annual meeting in sunny San Diego, where the video will be screened at the Brain Awareness Reception.

For contest details, visit the BrainFacts.org website, run by SfN.

Good luck!

And All That Jazz: A Q&A with Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D.

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

Famed artist Barbara Januszkiewicz once said, “Jazz is the art of thinking out loud.” Is it any wonder then that jazz has made its way into a variety of neuroscience laboratories to help researchers investigate the neural underpinnings of creativity, communication, and timing?

In honor of International Jazz Day, a day designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate jazz’ ability to connect people from all over the globe, Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D. , a neurologist at Columbia University (and jazz guitar player), shares his thoughts about jazz, timing, and the celebration of what our brains do each and every day in the service of cognition.

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Photo: Michael Shadlen

You are a jazz guitarist. What first got you interested in playing jazz music?

MS: I’ve always been interested in music. When I was younger, I played the violin. Later, I switched to guitar—mainly because my violin teacher wanted me to choose between basketball, girls, and violin. So I switched to guitar. I played in a rock band for a long time doing covers. We had the Bar Mitzvah circuit down!

But the drummer in our band was in the jazz band in high school. And he turned me on to it. We’d go to this amazing café called Amazing Grace in Evanston, Illinois. They had mostly folk music but also a lot of jazz acts. I remember seeing Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, and all kinds of amazing artists play there. It was pretty spectacular.

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