Princeton University
Department of Molecular Biology

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Tiger Talks


Is there a mathemetician in your brain?

Wed, Oct 24, 2007
Location - TBA


Professor of Molecular Biology


TIGER Talk October 24, 2007 Professor Carlos Brody "Is there a mathemetician in your brain?" Professor Carlos Brody acted as a guide to over 430 secondary school students and their teachers on a tour of his research delving into the brain. "How does the brain guide behavior?" he started off by asking the audience. In the simplest form the brain takes in sensory information and makes decisions about action. This model is too simple, he explained, as is does not take into account memory. Memory is essential to our life. We could not even finish a sentence if we did not remember how it began. The brain has over 10 billion neurons, so Prof. Brody asked "How do we study so complex an organ?" By developing mathematical models and testing them against laboratory animal results, scientists can begin to gain an understanding of how the brain and memory work. Simple memory experiments were constructed using frequency of touch comparison for monkeys or direction of sound for rats. By listening in on single neuron firing rates during the experiments, Prof. Brody tested and refined his mathematical models. The students were introduced to Goat the rat and his friends Hempseed and Jicama. These rats do very well in protrials where they are asked to turn towards the sound. The anti task of turning away from a sound takes many days and many trials to learn. It is a natural instinct to turn towards a sound, so this may explain the different outcomes. This ability to turn towards sound is impaired in schizophrenia, so it is hoped that this research may shed light on this disorder. Professor Brody concluded by saying that mathematics will give us the tools to try to model the brain, an organ we know so little about. Following questions, students were invited back to tour Professor Brody's lab and meet his graduate student Bing Brunton and research specialist Sebastian Awwad and see the exciting rats in action.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Princeton Center for Quantitative Biology