Since May of 2016, I’ve had the good fortune to interview the authors of our monthly Cerebrum articles for a podcast. Why a podcast? We suspect that visitors to Dana Foundation website—with already quite a bit to read—would welcome an audio option. We also thought it would be valuable to hear some of the top researchers in the field offer their opinions and explain some of the complex advances and public policy issues that they write about in Cerebrum, the Dana Foundation’s magazine-style series.
Early world explorers worked with crude maps, painfully charting the geography of new locations for future generations. Today, anyone can log on to the internet for detailed descriptions of the countries, cities, and roads of our world. In comparison, the map of the brain still has a long way to go. In fact, a map of the brain made over 100 years ago is still being used by neuroscientists today.
“Cartographers of the Brain: Mapping the Connectome,” a discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City, focused on efforts by neuroscientists to create new, more detailed maps of the brain. Deanna Barch, Washington University School of Medicine; Nim Tottenham, Columbia University; Dana Alliance member Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University; and Dana Alliance member David Van Essen, Washington University, formed the expert panel.
The World Science Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and is once again offering a great series of programs. From May 30 to June 4 in New York City, you can attend events ranging from a trivia night on mummies to a panel talk on the biggest questions in cosmology.
Of course, we’re most interested in the brain-related events, and they don’t disappoint. On Wednesday, May 31, psychologists and neuroscientists will tackle creativity and artificial intelligence–can computers be creative? Friday, June 2, a panel will explore brain development and the roots of human social connections. On the last day of the festival, attendees will hear an update on the Human Connectome Project. Two Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives members will present at this event: neurobiologist David Van Essen, author of a 2016 Cerebrum article on the connectome, and developmental neurobiologist Jeff W. Lichtman.
Tickets are on sale now and sell out quickly! And stay tuned for coverage of some of the events on this blog.
In our September Cerebrum article, “The Human Connectome Project: Progress and Prospects,” David Van Essen, Ph.D., and Matthew Glasser, Ph.D., write about an ambitious six-year collaboration between neuroscientists at various institutions to map the brain with the help of 1,200 volunteers and ever evolving magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. In this new podcast, the pair discuss their role, some of the unexpected surprises, and what they hope to discover in the project’s next phase.
On June 5, three scientists spoke on Capitol Hill about brain mapping research and how the proposed decade-long BRAIN Initiative could impact the neuroscience field. The briefing was part of a series organized by AAAS and supported by the Dana Foundation, designed to educate members of Congress and their staffs about topical issues in neuroscience.
Presenting at the meeting were Dana Alliance member David Van Essen, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Michael Roukes, Ph.D., a professor of physics, applied physics, and bioengineering at California Institute of Technology; and Emery Brown, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT.
The BRAIN Initiative has been compared to the Human Genome Project (HGP), which successfully identified most of the DNA base pairs that make up human genes, by coordinating researchers and standardizing the technology needed to do so. The BRAIN Initiative would also help standardize technologies for brain observations and make them more widely available, Van Essen said. But unlike the HGP, its work would never really be done. Humans have a finite set of genes, but there is an almost infinite number of ways the brain can be organized. Each person’s brain is folded differently, and has a different pattern of brain wiring. That’s true even for identical twins, who share the same genes, he said.