A Wild and Brainy Night at the Museum

Last Thursday, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City hosted “Neuroscience Night: Wild, Wild Brains” during Brain Awareness Week in the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. The night was filled with interactive games and flash lectures (i.e., a series of talks no more than 30 minutes long) that showcased how our human brains compare to those of our animal counterparts, both present day and extinct.

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A packed lecture room: in the back of the Hall were lectures from three experts each focused on the study of animal brain evolution and behavior. The talks spanned topics such as bird brains, olfactory evolution in primates, and elephant behavior and cognition.

Amy Balanoff, Ph.D., who was one of the night’s guest speakers, presented her own research on the evolutionary history of the avian (or, bird) brain. She and her colleagues use endocasts to study the brains of non-avian dinosaurs and Archaeopteryx (the first known transition between dinosaurs and flying birds) and then compare those casts to the brains of modern-day birds. An endocast is a casting of a hollow space—in this case, a fossilized cranial bone, which Balanoff created using CT imaging. Continue reading

The Power to Overcome Challenges

We all experience different forms of adversity in our lives, some more severe than others. But why do some people seem to crumble when faced with those challenges, while others remain optimistic and persevere? Do genetics play a role? Scientists are looking at the biological underpinnings of resilience for answers.

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Heather Berlin, Ph.D.

Diving into this subject, the Rubin Museum of Art welcomed three experts to the stage for the latest 2019 Brainwave program, “The Power to Overcome Challenges.” Heather Berlin, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist who spoke at the Rubin for a past Brainwave event and worked with her husband on a theatrical show about consciousness, sat between Sharlee Jeter, president of the Turn 2 Foundation, which was founded by her brother, baseball legend Derek Jeter, and Sampson Davis, M.D., an emergency room physician and co-founder of the Three Doctors Foundation. Together, Sampson and Jeter co-authored a book all about “the stuff”—two words that came up often as the group discussed trauma and resilience throughout the evening. Continue reading

Parkinson’s Disease on the Mind

People often associate tremor with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder originally named “shaking palsy,” but did you know that one-quarter to one-third of patients don’t exhibit this symptom? At Wednesday night’s event for Brain Awareness Week, “On the Mind: Parkinson’s, Movement, and Dance,” we heard from top NYU doctors about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, but also from a PD patient on his experience with disease and how dance helped him come to terms with his diagnosis.

There are four cardinal clinical features of PD: rest tremor, slowness, stiffness in muscles, and balance problems, said Andrew Feigin, M.D., director of the Fresco Institute at NYU Langone Health. Not everyone gets all four, he said, but people with Parkinsonism have two or more, and are often diagnosed with PD. Because it is a progressive disease, these symptoms can lead to other troubles, including quiet or slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and shuffling gait, as well as non-motor features such as depression, impulse control, and sleep disturbances.

Actor Michael J. Fox and the late boxer Muhammad Ali, both diagnosed with PD, dramatically increased public awareness of the disease in the past few decades, but it was first discovered in the early 1800s by James Parkinson. Around 1 million people in the U.S. and 6 million people worldwide have PD.

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The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Data Science

It may be more than coincidence that the NYU Center for Data Science (CDS) chose to hold its Fifth Anniversary Celebration during Brain Awareness Week. The event, held in a well-appointed room at Vanderbilt Hall in New York City, opened with speeches by New York University’s new Vice Provost of Research Staci Grossman Bloom and new CDS Director Julia Kempe that focused on the importance of data science as a vital multi-disciplinary field and the enormous growth of the center in just five years.

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From left: Julia Kempe, Arthur Spirling, Yann LeCun, Daniel Sodickson, Julia Stoyanovich, and Brenden Lake. Photo courtesy of NYU CDS

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Brain Fairs for Brain Awareness Week

Brain Fairs for Brain Awareness Week

Prior to Brain Awareness Week, we encouraged you to watch our video on how to organize a successful brain fair, and now that Brain Awareness Week is here, we encourage you to see one in action! Across the globe, brain fairs—stations with activities and information about the brain set up at hospitals, universities, community centers, and more—are a popular activity for organizers and attendees alike. They’re a great way to share a range of brain science topics, while also drawing attention to the work or focus of the organizer.

In New York City this week, we have our pick of brain fairs to attend—so we’ve chosen to attend several of them! We offer some highlights in photos from the NYC brain fair scene.

BioBase Harlem at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute: Continue reading

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