With the Neural Architectures exhibition as a backdrop, our Brain and Mind series continues as two scientists examine brain mapping—the effort to build comprehensive graphics of neural connections.
Richard Hahnloser, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Zurich, examines the brains of songbirds to determine which neurons generate their tunes. Following the hypothesis that bird neurons are connected in sequential chains that define the melody overall, he asks if it might be possible to link neural structures with specific functions.
“I will show evidence of why we should think of songbirds as the ideal model system for understanding basic neural principles of vocal learning, including speech,” Hahnloser says. “I will talk about how birds learn their songs, how we can measure the involvement of single neurons in this process, and about methods for elucidating the detailed wiring diagram among neurons. To measure and describe the detailed neural architecture of a behavior as complex as vocal learning is an important scientific quest of this century with tremendous expected impact for our understanding of brain function in health and disease.”
Surya Ganguli is a fellow of the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology at the University of California, San Francisco. His computer modeling research is helping interpret and understand complicated data culled from brain research, a tool that could help build new hypotheses and theories around these findings.
“The ability to sustain attention is a prerequisite for an ability to learn, but sustained attention has become even more of a challenge in our new information age dominated by cell phones, email, news alerts, and, last but not least, Facebook, and Twitter,” Ganguli says. “Our brain is engaged in mediating a constant battle between our internally generated goals, and externally imposed distractions, and the outcome of this battle determines our allocation of attention at any given time. What kind of havoc might this battle wreak on the very neural activity that underlies our thoughts? I will discuss this question in the context of neural data and show how new theories hint at how neural processes and architectures may control the moment-to-moment fluctuations of our own locus of attention.”
6:30 pm doors open
7:00 pm introductory remarks
7:10 pm presentations followed by Q&A
8:30 pm reception
9:30 pm doors close
NOTE: Please arrive on time. No entry permitted after 8:00 pm.
Professor Richard Hahnloser heads the Birdsong Research Group at the University of Zurich’s Institute of Neuroinformatics. He is also Dean of the joint master’s degree program in Neural Systems and Computation, offered in collaboration with the Mathematics and Natural Sciences Faculty at the University of Zurich and by the Department of Physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). This program is an interdisciplinary research platform that offers theoretical and laboratory training in neural computation and systems neuroscience. Hahnloser earned his Ph.D. at the Institute of Neuroinformatics at ETH Zurich in 1999 and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Seung Lab) at MIT and the Biological Computation Research group at Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs.
Surya Ganguli is a fellow at the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology in the Keck Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and is supported by a career award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Interfaces in Science Program. At Sloan-Swartz, he conducts research on theoretical principles underlying the organization of neural circuitry mediating learning, memory, and sensorimotor processing. Before joining UCSF, he received his Ph.D. in string theory at the Berkeley Center for Theoretical Physics and the Theory Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. His undergrad days at MIT saw him studying electrical engineering and computer science, mathematics, and physics.
Photo: Myleen Hollero