New York City’s 2019 Regional Brain Bee

Students from 23 schools across the five boroughs and Westchester County came together to test their smarts in the New York City Regional Brain Bee this past Saturday. Held in the Great Hall at The City College of New York, the 2019 competition concluded after eight rounds of five brain-related questions each, with the top three winners walking away with cash prizes, plaques, and the knowledge that they probably knew more about the brain than most of the audience.

From left: Bianca Jones Marlin, Ph.D. (judge), Daphna Shohamy, Ph.D. (moderator), Kelly Chan (first-place winner), Rainer Engelken, Ph.D. (judge), Nafew Mustafa (third-place winner), Amelia Korniyenko (second-place winner), Jerome Staal, Ph.D. (judge), and Kathleen Roina (BAW Director). Photo: Jacqueline Silberbush

“The New York City Regional Brain Bee competition is in celebration of Brain Awareness Week,” said Kathleen Roina, director of outreach and education at the Dana Foundation, in her welcoming remarks. “The global campaign was created by the Dana Alliance to advance public understanding about the brain and the promise of brain research.” The Brain Bee is just one of many Brain Awareness Week activities designed to help students become more interested and active in learning about the brain and the research surrounding it.

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Eric Kandel is Alan Alda’s Podcast Guest

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Image courtesy of Alda Communication Training Co.

On the latest episode of the Clear + Vivid podcast, host Alan Alda, well-known actor, writer, and, in recent years, crusader of science outreach, sits down with old friend and Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Eric R. Kandel, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University and author of The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves. Kandel speaks to Alda about his work, the satisfaction of connecting with audiences, and fleeing Austria in the aftermath of its annexation to Nazi Germany.

The podcast focuses on communication and connection. It’s through conversations with individuals holding mastery in various fields that Alda guides the listener, stopping to appreciate peaks and valleys of the art form. In this, Alda and Nobel Laureate Kandel find and sustain a relaxed stride, offering listeners morsels of wisdom: The importance of being mindful of your audience, focusing on one person and changing your approach based on their responses (favorable or not); the role of laughter in forming connections; and the delicate dance of simplifying your ideas to a lay audience without treading on and distorting the science. Continue reading

Memory as a Creative Act

Creativity (2).jpgDaphna Shohamy, Ph.D., is more comfortable in her lab at Columbia University than on stage in front of an audience. So why did she agree to participate in the 2018 Brainwave series for a live discussion? Because art and science are more alike than they seem, she said, and she wanted to help explain that.

The series pairs accomplished professionals with neuroscientists for a themed discussion at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. When asked who she would like as a partner for the discussion on the relationship between narrative/storytelling and memory, Shohamy knew right away she wanted to be paired writer Nicole Krauss, author of New York Times bestselling books Great House and The History of Love, because writers truly “understand the force of memory.”

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What Makes Us Who We Are: Neuroscience and the Self

The idea of the mind is a relatively modern concept. In medieval times, it was believed that people were divided in two parts, the physical body and the spiritual soul. With the emergence of the scientific revolution and thinkers such as John Locke, the mind and secular life became an important topic in discussions about self-awareness. Since then, we have been trying to understand not only what it means to possess a mind, but also the neuroscience behind it.

That was part of the message at “My Neurons, My Self,” a panel discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City. Three eminent neuroscientists and a philosopher provided insight into the “mind-brain” problem, focusing on what defines the self. “What we don’t have yet is a way of bridging mental experience with the brain in a coherent model that allows for mental intention; we still are a ways off from solving the mind-brain problem,” said George Makari, M.D., director of the Institute of the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, in introducing the panel.

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Understanding How We Learn: Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Initiative

From who we marry to how we invest to the words we type, some of our most important decisions are based on how we process instantaneous feedback.

Daphna Shohamy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and founder and director of The Learning Lab at the Columbia University Mind Brain Behavior Initiative, focused on how the brain supports learning, memory, and decision-making in a lecture hosted by the initiative and sponsored by the Dana Foundation.

Shohamy began by showing two images side-by-side, one freezing terrain and the other, a sun-filled beach. She explained that at age 10, her family moved from Minneapolis to Tel Aviv, and the images depicted both environments. The stark differences between the cultures and her surroundings led her to wonder about the way we learn, and sent her on an academic path that would begin at Tel-Aviv University and include graduate work at Rutgers and Stanford universities before moving to Columbia University five years ago.

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