Neuroscience Experts Share Research with Lawrentians

Annie Hait '19
On Friday, January 25, 2019, five members of the Brain COGS team, Dr. Carlos Brody, Dr. Jonathan Pillow, Ben Deverett, Dr. Marlies Oostland, and Brigitte Stark, visited Lawrenceville to speak the Fourth and Fifth Formers in the “Learning and Memory” course. Brain COGS is a National Institute of Health funded project that “aims to determine how the brain produces decisions based on working memory,” a concept currently being studied by the students in the course.
When asked why they were motivated to study this particular topic, Pillow answered that “what motivated us to study working memory and decision making is that they are crucial parts of our lives in terms of decision making and the ability to hold information in your mind.” Deverett added that “the cerebellum has a long history of being understood in terms of motor function. The first thing people noticed when the cerebellum receives damage is lack of smooth motor control. When looking at these patients, researchers find new issues such as emotion regulation, mood, and memory. People started wondering if there was more to the cerebellum.”
In terms of their advice to Lawrentians looking to pursue a career in science, Brody stressed the importance of computer science in the future of scientific research. As technology advances, the possibilities for the field of neuroscience grow exponentially. Oostland shared how recent advancements in sensors and brains probes have allowed her to further her research in a way that wouldn’t have been possible five years prior. She is able to continuously collect data from multiple purkinje cells in her mice, a type of data collection made possible by the increase in sensors on a single probe.
Deverett and Pillow also spoke about how people from a large diversity of academic backgrounds can get involved in neuroscience. Pillow said, “neuroscience brings together so many different fields and lots of different disciplines in order to help research this topic.” This is evident from the diversity within this group of researchers, with backgrounds ranging from mathematics to music.
On why they came to Lawrenceville to present, Brody remarked that, “Understanding the brain is one of the great challenges facing humanity and it relies on getting other people to study the brain. The hope would be that by sharing our research we can inspire others to study the brain or take classes that will prepare them to do ground breaking research in the field.” Deverett shared that meeting people who did scientific research is what inspired him to get into the field.
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