Princeton University
Department of Molecular Biology

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Tiger Talks


The Architecture of Brains

Wed, Mar 08, 2006
Location - TBA


Samuel S.H. Wang DR. SAMUEL S.H. WANG
Professor of Molecular Biology


Professor Sam Wang enthralled 300 students and teachers with a lecture on brain architecture. He began by sharing his educational and career path that started as a physics undergraduate major and culminated in cutting-edge neurobiology research. Professor Wang continued with an exciting exploration of brain evolution. Our brains weigh just under three pounds and the cells (neurons) talk to each other. Synapses form the connections between neurons. Our brain contains a million billion synapses and uses 12 watts of power. The total body uses 70 watts, so the brain is a major energy user compared to other organs. One of the key reasons to study neurobiology is that neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's, epilepsy and stroke, affect roughly 20% of the population. Professor Wang held up a small vial containing a shrew's brain and compared it to the huge 20 pound whale's brain. He demonstrated a useful way to compare brains by measuring the proportions of brain structures, which is called the cerebrotype. Social interaction appears to be a driving selective force in increasing brain size in primates, including human beings; and perhaps in birds as well. Professor Wang then discussed more of his research on neuron structure. Every neuron has a complex tree called a dendrite, where it gets thousands of inputs. Professor Wang's lab is now examining how individual nerve cells integrate information through these dendrites, using two photon fluorescence microscopy in living slices of brain tissue. Following the illuminating TIGER Talk and discussion 90 students and their teachers joined us back in the teaching labs for dissections of sheep brains led by graduate students, Moriah Szpara, Molecular Biology and Eve Schneider, Psychology.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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