2015 GDBBS Banquet Fashion Spread

By Amielle Moreno

2015 GDBBS Interior Panoramic – Version 2

On a rainy Thursday night, the brightest things in Atlanta were the women and men of Emory’s Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. I plucked the prettiest flowers from the bunch for this article to honor their stylishness.

Gina Alesi from Cancer Biology

Gina Alesi from Cancer Biology

Alicia Cutler from Biochemistry Cell and Developmental Biology (BCDB)

Alicia Cutler from Biochemistry Cell and Developmental Biology (BCDB)

Morgan Woody Winship Cancer Institute

Morgan Woody Winship Cancer Institute

The solid purple dress took center stage this year with multiple ladies donning this trending color. With many ways to wear it, this color is flattering on everyone, but who do you think wore it best?

Josh Lewis from BCDB

Josh Lewis from BCDB

Marko Bajic from Genetics and Molecular Biology

Marko Bajic from Genetics and Molecular Biology

R to L: Gary Longstreet from Program Administration, as well as Muhammad Anzar Abbas from Neuroscience and his lovely date

Gary Longstreet from Program Administration, as well as Muhammad Anzar Abbas from Neuroscience and his lovely date

In man’s fashion, the surest way to stand out in the sea of polo shirted lazy-lads, was easy: sports jacket and tie. Josh Lewis’ mix of jacket and plaid skinny tie set him apart from the crowd. Look out Chris Hardwick! Unfortunately, some people think fashion ends after your pants, such as Marko, who looked like the whole package until you notice his shoes. When asked about his ensemble he responded “#Marko #swag #swagco #yolo #yololifeforever #ijustputiton.” But Anzar Abbas gets extra flair points for his light brown tips. And yes, Gary Longstreet, people are going to think you’re a server if you dress in all black. “Black’s my favorite color,” he responded with aplomb.

Gina Lenzi  Molecular Systems and Pharmacology

Gina Lenzi Molecular Systems and Pharmacology

Madeline Price IMP Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis

Madeline Price IMP Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis

The LBD is a fashion staple but Gina’s lacy number will stand the test of time. It’s versatile with long sleeves which keep it in rotation from fall to late winter. Meanwhile, Madeline pulled this little number out of the closet after getting into shape. Can you think of anything more rewarding than slipping into that dress after months of working out? Her classic pumps make her ready for any formal event, but one might say that her accessories are lacking while Gina’s gold accessories take her ensemble over the top.Who wore black better: Gina, Madeline or Gary?

Version 3

Rachel Cliburn from Neuroscience

Rachel Cliburn from Neuroscience

Gary Longstreet from Program Adminsitration, Dr. Weinshenker and Dr. Gretchen Neigh

Gary Longstreet from Program Adminsitration, Dr. Weinshenker and Dr. Gretchen Neigh

And then there were the red mavens. Rachel  not only had hands and toes in theme with her red dress from Paris, her glass slippers “make [her] feel like she can twinkle float.” Dr. Neigh gets a chance to wear this beautiful gown for the second time. I was shocked that it was an Ann Taylor because I’ve never seen anything this bright. That dress, much like these two ladies, stand out from the crowd when everybody else is wearing tan. Thanks for the photo bomb, Gary.

Jacob Billings from Neuroscience

Jacob Billings from Neuroscience

Lukas Hoffmann from Neuroscience

Lukas Hoffmann from Neuroscience

Both of these Neuroscience gentlemen received their neuron accessories, from their significant others. Lukas’s purple tie is from Bow-Tie For a Cause with all the profits from this gift benefiting Alzheimer’s research.

Julia Omotade from BCDB

Oh MY, Omotade! Julia Omotade from BCDB wins the best dressed award!

Black and White doesn’t get any better. In my humble opinion, Julia Omotade’s cocktail dress puts all others to shame and as the best dressed at the GDBBS Banquet.



Eye catching from across the room, Pernille Buelow claims she does "this with my hair everyday at lab."

Eye catching from across the room, Pernille Buelow from Neuroscience claims she does “this with my hair everyday at lab.”

What did they just hear that could create such polar reactions?

What did they just hear that could create such polar reactions?

Dr. Weinshenker was literally the last person to receive dinner.

Dr. Weinshenker was literally the last person to receive dinner.

Because it's alien eggs, this is the vegetarian option not the vegan option.

Because it’s alien eggs, this is the vegetarian option not the vegan option.

The food was much better in years past.

The food was much better in years past.

Version 2

Constance Harrell Shreckengost from Neuroscience receives the graduate Career Award


Lauren DePoy receives the Neuroscience Scholar of the Year Award

Version 2

A bowl?! I work for 13 years and all I get is a bowl with a dent in it?!?!

Version 2

Lukas Hoffmann from Neuroscience receives the Graduate Program in Biology Academic and Achievement Award

Version 2

My two bundles of joy!

Posted in Activities, awards, Drinks, field report, Food, GDBBS, Neuroscience Program | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did You Know? with Willa Cho!: Little-known facts about Atlanta

by Willa ChoIheartATL

Little-known facts about Atlanta!

  • Atlanta resident Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind because an ankle injury kept her from leaving the city and she was very bored.
  • Atlanta is still proud that it hosted the Olympics in 1996, for some reason.
  • In 1886 Atlanta, Dr. John S. Pemberton invented Coca-Cola to usher in a new era of obesity but passed away before his dream was realized.
  • Every year, Atlanta hosts DragonCon, a multigenre convention and parade  celebrating science fiction, fantasy, and comic books which commences nerd mating season
  • Atlanta was chosen as a hub for Delta airlines because it’s only a three hour plane ride to some place better.
  • Atlanta is believed to be named after the goddess Atalanta, who was raised by bears. The cult responsible for the naming is still active and its hooded members can often be spotted along the new beltline walking path.
  • Elle and Dakota Fanning, Jane Fonda, Holly Hunter, Ed Helms, Raven-Symoné, Chris Tucker, and Julia Roberts were all born in Atlanta and now live somewhere else.
  • Tourist attractions in downtown Atlanta includes the worlds largest aquarium and Coca-Cola’s ‘World of Propaganda.’
  • Stone Mountain, outside Atlanta, is one of the largest blocks of exposed granite racism in the world.
  • A law still stands on the books from 1927 that states that good Chinese restaurants aren’t allowed anywhere in the city except Buford Highway.PrayforATLA
  • The symbol or mascot of Atlanta is “A man from another area in the south who thinks Atlanta is great!”
  • Atlanta is an official celestial conduit to heaven, with branches of Zesto’s serving as departure terminals for all believers chubby enough to survive the trip.
  • There are over 55 streets with the name “Peachtree” in the city, all with their own rival gangs that brawl during any eclipse.
  • What we call “Atlanta” is only the surface of a much, much larger subterranean city, which comprises 91% of the mass, 87% of the energy consumption, and nearly 100% of the Tinder spam bots.
Posted in Atlanta, Fun | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Samuel Sober

By Dr. Brian Bauss

Produced by Amielle Moreno

The Central Sulcus is proud to share its first podcast with you; an interview of the Emory Neuroscience Program’s Dr. Samuel Sober. Below is a link to the audio interview, and a transcript of the interview is located below. Enjoy!

-Amielle Moreno-

Brain Waves Podcast Transcript:

Hello! I’m Dr.Bryan Bauss, assistant associate professor of neocortical physics at the metropolitan university of Fruitville Florida. And this is Brain Waves! Every week on Brain Waves, we take a look at the fascinating world of Neuroscience and the implications of the latest research findings for health, law, medicine, health, and videogames. This week on Brain Waves we’ll be talking to Dr.Samuel Sober in the Biology Department at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia about his work on sensorimotor learning using the songbird as a model system. I’m Dr. Bryan Bauss, and we now begin Brain Waves.

Dr. Bauss: Dr. Sober, first of all I’d like to thank you for taking the part in the Brain Waves podcast and I’m going to start with a question I always begin my interviews with; At what age did you first know you were interested in smoked meat products?

Dr. Sober: Hahaha! I came to smoked meat products relatively late in life. Some people think you have to start when you’re five or six years old to be a virtuoso but I was in graduate school when I first got into sausage and bacon.

Dr Bauss: I see. Now, to prepare for this interview I read your website and listened to a segment on National Public Radio about your work, and I understand that you work with birds. I want to pose you a question that was first asked by Dr. Violent Femmes; that is, ‘why do birds sing?’

Dr. Sober: They, the birds that we study and some of the other speicies basically sing for two reasons. First is to attract mates. In fact that’s probably mostly why the birds we study sing, also for territorial defense to mark off their territory.

Dr. Bouys: I see so to the two ‘F’s as I’ve heard them called: to flirt and to fight.

Dr. Sober: Yes

Dr. Bouys: I see. So going back to species for a second. I’ve often noticed that mockingbirds can sing an almost infinite number of songs and wondered how they can learn so much with their simple brains. Do you study mockingbirds and if not, what stupid lame species of birds do you study?

Dr. Sober: We do not study mockingbirds in the lab. Interestingly the field of songbird neurophysiology has chosen to focus on primarily Zebra finches and also Bengalese finches who have some of the smallest song repertoires of any bird, primarily for experimental reasons. If you’re going to study how different parts of the brain are active during different behaviors you want a bird that tends to do the same behavior over and over again. There are, of course, other species that have gigantic repertoires, including the brown thrasher, that happens to be the state bird of Georgia and also has the largest recorded repertoire. I think, it’s something like two or three thousand distinct syllables. There has been much less neurobiological work on those guys. From what I know the brain structure is not dramatically different then the species that we study. I would love to know what’s different about their brains that gives them those gigantic repertoires.

Dr. Bauss: Seems like you are really a ‘bird nerd.’

Dr. Sober: Yup.

Dr. Bauss: Speaking of ‘bird nerds’ and brains many times when we feel as though someone is not particularly intelligent, we might refer to them as a ‘bird brain.’ Is there any truth to the idea that bird’s brains are somehow less intelligent than our own? If I were a bird, how would my brain be different? Would I have a soul?

Dr. Sober: … Well, intelligence I believe strongly that there are many different definitions of intelligence. When it comes to learning songs, pecking for seeds and flying, birds far out preform humans. On certain videogames, chess, checkers, things like that people are obviously quite a bit better. So yeah, I get asked the bird brain question a lot and usually when that happens, I terminate the interview and make some sausage or bacon… But we can continue.

Dr. Bauss: I see. Here’s another question, sent in by Carol of Mr. Anderson’s third grade class: do birds have ears?

Dr. Sober: Birds do have ears! I get asked that question a lot. They actually have excellent hearing, which makes sense given how important the singing is. What birds don’t have is what we like to refer to as external pinnae, which are the little cartilaginous things that stick out the sides of our heads. In fact, the bird’s ear opening is covered in feathers and it’s just below and slightly behind the eye. They’re big, relative to their heads.

Dr. Bauss: I see. I had also read that you build tiny headphones for the birds. I guess now I understand why. Can you explain to the listeners of our podcast what kind of music you play through the headphones to the birds?

Dr. Sober: We actually do not play music through the head phones. In fact, the reason that we go to the ridiculous amount of trouble to build headphones for birds is to change how they hear themselves sing. So one thing that we’re very interested in our lab is how the brain learns from its mistakes. It turns out that songbirds are very, very good at this. The birds that we study learn how to sing through a process of vocal imitation where they memorize a song then learn how to create it themselves. The way they are able to achieve the song they want to produce is by learning from their mistakes. So to sum up, the reason we put headphones on songbirds is to give us control over the mistakes the birds experience while they’re singing.

Dr. Bauss: So, you can control the birds.

Dr. Sober: We can control what they hear.

Dr Bauss: I see. As I understand you had previously worked with a species, homo sapiens. And while working with this model system you told a well-known science reporter that we could never learn anything by studying songbirds. Why did you sell out? Is it because you were frustrated with your previous model system? Unable to control them, perhaps? Or is it just because of the sheer amount of money you can make in songbird research.

Dr. Sober: Purely for funding reasons; I followed the money. No, exactly the opposite. One of the first labs I ever worked in as an undergraduate was a very good songbird lab and at the time, I really enjoyed the lab but felt strongly that songbirds were not a good system to study any of the questions I was interested in. Ten years later I changed my mind and went back to studying songbirds, to look at some different questions. I did my doctoral work on how humans plan arm movements. Thinking about questions of how does the brain combine different sensory information and execute and learn accurate motor behaviors. But obviously in humans, we don’t have very much access to the patterns of neural activity that underlie these things. So after I finished my Ph.D. , I knew I wanted to work on a species where we could record and manipulate brain activity, which eventually lead me to work on songbirds. In terms of being able to control the species, one of the main frustrations of working on human subjects, the people don’t show up for their appointments. That is much less of a concern with songbirds. They tend to stay in the cage where you put them.

Dr. Bauss: You could also work with homing pigeons for the same reason.

Dr. Sober: (awkward forced laughter)

Dr. Bauss: And not only can you access their brains you can access their muscles. The same science reporter told me that your lab has designed a multi electrode array for recording from muscles, code named: Da Finchey Trode. Please explain what the trode does with the fincheys.

Dr. Sober: Sure! One of the many wonderful things that the brain does is control the body. This happens via muscles of course. So some neurons in the brain send their output to muscles and when those neurons are activated, those muscles contract. Those muscle contractions produce every behavior, essentially. So one of the things we’re very interested in is how the brain and the muscles work together to produce behaviors. So, we want to understand how, during learning, the brain changes the pattern of muscle activation that produces the behavior in order to make the behavior better. One of the ways that we and lots of other people explore how muscles function is to record the electrical activity from those muscles. So when a piece of muscle tissue contracts, it produces this characteristic electrical signal. One of the things that’s very challenging, especially in a very small animal like a songbird, is that these muscles are really really small and these muscles are made up of lots and lots of individual fibers that can become activated independently. So, we developed this type of electrode that allows us to record from these very small muscles with very high resolution. What this electrode is, is essentially an array of very very tiny gold contacts, very tiny gold particles embedded in a flexible substrate which we can then lay on top of the muscle and record these very nice signals. We had a contest, inside and outside the lab to come up with names for these. There were some interesting entries to the contest. We considered myo-flex before we decided that it sounded a little like an off brand exercise machine. Another one that we came up with was Flexible Electrode Mulit-Array, which is quite descriptive but unfortunately has the acronym ‘FEMA’. So we changed our mind on that one. Actually a friend of mine, who happens to be another science journalist came up with the name of ‘Da Finchey Trodes,’ which is horrendously awkward but has stuck, so the flexible electrodes are called Da Finchey Trodes.

Dr Bauss: I also discovered, during my extensive preparation for this interview, a comment on a blog on the internet that claimed that birdsong researchers fail to understand and properly apply information theory to the spiking activity of neurons. Can you explain what the hell that means, as is that true?

Dr. Sober: (defensively) It is not true. In fact, one of the recent publications from our lab uses a mathematical technique called information theory, which I’ll get to in a moment, to try to understand how the songbird brain tries controls vocal behavior. So to give some context, one of the things we’re interested in is how the activity of individual brain cells controls behavior and also changes during the process of learning. Without getting too technical, it’s one of the fundamental mysteries of neuroscience how electrical activity in parts of the brain corresponds to perception and behavior and things like that. Now there are lots and lots of different mathematical techniques that are available to us to understand the relationship between brain activity and behavior and information theory is a group of techniques that have been extensively applied to sensory processing, so how your brain hears and sees and touches and things like that. We had a paper at the end of last year where we used some similar techniques to try to understand how the brain controls behavior and the major finding there is that the timing of action potentials and the timing of electrical activities in the brain, turns out to be critically important for controlling vocal behavior.

Dr. Bauss: I see, so using these mathematical techniques, we can understand how the brain normally functions, but what about translational research? For instance, can a bird get Parkinson’s and if not why should we study them?

Dr. Sober: Very good question! So, ours is a basic research laboratory, so our goal is to find out some of the interesting things about the normal functioning of the brain. Of course we always do this research with an eye towards applications in humans and in human disease especially. One of the things we’ve been working on in the lab recently is trying to understand how a particular neurotransmitter called dopamine might be involved in vocal learning, which is to say the bird learning to change its song to improve it over time. So, one of the notable things about dopamine is that the dopamine system in the brain is one of the things that gets screwed up during Parkinson’s disease, so a lot the behavioral impairments that are very noticeable in Parkinson’s result directly or indirectly from a loss of dopamine. What we’re doing in this recent project in our lab is not to give songbirds Parkinson’s disease, although inevitably when I explain this project everyone’s like ‘oh, so you’re giving songbirds Parkinson’s disease.’ That’s not what we’re doing. What we are doing is damaging the dopamine system in songbirds and we’re doing that for this very particular reason; not to create a songbird Parkinson’s disease but to understand the contributions that dopamine makes to this particular form of vocal learning. So even though the bird doesn’t have Parkinson’s disease, this is relevant to Parkinson’s disease because Parkinson’s disease includes among many other symptoms these deficits in learning.

Dr. Bauss : I see. So, I guess studying dopamine isn’t just… for the birds.

Dr. Sober: (awkward pause)

Dr. Bauss: That concludes our interview with Dr. Samuel Sober from the Biology Department of Emory University. Thank you Dr. Sober.

Dr. Sober: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s special edition of Brain Waves. Join me next week for a round table discussion of the neuroethics of using deep brain stimulation to treat erectile disfunction. Executive director of Brain Waves is Amielle Moreno. Technical direction provided by Kyle Srivastava. Improv coach, Lukas Hoffmann. Human resources, Mackenzie Wyatt. Our staff physician is Dr. Conor Kelly. Coffee and pastries provided by Wood’s Bakeries. Brain Waves is a production of WMUF, the official radio station of the metropolitan area of Fruitville Florida. Once again I’m Dr. Bryan Bauss, assistant professor of Neocortical Physics, and this has been Brain Waves.

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Group Fitness Classes at Emory

Notes from Elizabeth Kline

Emory has group fitness classes available. To take the classes as a graduate student, you pay a $15/semester fee and sign a release. You can do that at either the WPEC or the SAAC. You can take as many classes as you like. I have done Zumba and spinning and yoga, but none of them affect me spiritually except for Elgin’s kickboxing class.

Kickboxing is 4:30 – 5:20 PM in the summer. For an updated schedule of group fitness classes at Emory, see this link. Some classes are offered at the Woodruff P.E. Center (WPEC) on main campus and others at the Student Athletic Activity Center (SAAC) at the Clairmont campus.

Monday 7:30 AM – I wake up happy. It is Monday. Monday is for Elgin’s kickboxing class. I reflect on whether I have clean work out clothes. I do. I smile and drink a liter of water.

Excerpt from KC Green's comic gunshow #343. www.gunshowcomic.com. Also, a true-to-life depiction of Monday Elizabeth.

Excerpt from KC Green’s comic gunshow #343. http://www.gunshowcomic.com. Also, a true-to-life depiction of Monday Elizabeth.

Monday 10:37 AM – I am at the dentist. These notes are not supposed to be about the dentist, but while I have you here, I will tell you my dentist is Radiant Smiles in Midtown. Perhaps you are a new student looking for a dentist in Atlanta, so let me tell you what I think of Radiant Smiles. The best thing about Radiant Smiles is that it is very close to Trader Joes, and Trader Joes has yogurt star cookies, dumplings, and cheap wine.

Monday 12:04 PM – I am in Trader Joes. I walked in hoping to find fresh cut peonies and left with 4 kinds of protein bars and coconut oil.

Enemy of Dentists, Kickboxing Fuel

Enemy of Dentists, Kickboxing Fuel

Monday 2:00 PM – I am having tea while I read papers. I try not to eat for 3 hours before class to prevent gas. I check my pulse. That’s not something I normally do. I was just thinking about how maybe including my pulse in these notes might be interesting. I count 54 beats in a minute.

Monday 4:08 PM – I leave lab and walk to Elgin’s kickboxing class.

Monday 4:12 PM – I am picking at my chipped nail polish and a SHARD of it gets JAMMED underneath one of my other nails. I am BLEEDING. I take a picture to include in these notes.

Monday 4:19 PM – I finally clot.

Figure 2. What the heck?!

Figure 2. What the heck?!

Monday 4:21 PM – I start to run because I think I am going to be late to class. If this ever happens to you, do not worry because if you arrive late to Elgin’s kickboxing class, he never shames you. He just says “~hellllooooooo~” with an inflection that conveys familiarity and friendliness and recognition. He does it exactly the same way for every person who comes in late. With Elgin you know you are seen but not judged, welcomed but not forced, encouraged and accepted. “~Hellllooooooo~” is what he says but what he says is “I know you tried your best to get here on time, and it is fine that you have a hard time estimating how long protocols take. Come into my class. We will work it out.”

Monday 4:27 PM – I look around and realize the only other people running right now are tiny children who are heading toward the gym for swimming lessons. Tiny flip-flops, tiny swim trunks. I can tell I look like a giant child, also running. I almost fall down because one of the tiny children is fast and unpredictable.

Monday 4:30 PM – I made it. I am dressed and marching in place as the music starts. The walk/bleed/run to get to the SAAC from Whitehead took me 20 minutes and 48 seconds including a wardrobe change.

Elgin’s kickboxing class involves no punching bags or boxing gloves. You fight no one (except *YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!!). It is like an aerobics class where you step-touch and grapevine and squat and hop. Most of the moves involve punching or kicking the air around you. Form is not enforced. Elgin counts backwards and calls out the moves while loud remixes of Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Ciara, Britney Spears, etc. play. It is exactly what I want. Outside of Elgin’s kickboxing class, I spend a great deal of time feeling unsure. If you are a rotation student, perhaps you often do not know how things are done in your new lab. Even after you join a lab, perhaps you often do not know where something is stored or how to fix certain problems. You can figure it out, but maybe you, like me, experience a lot of uncertainty all the time. I think I really like (love/worship) Elgin’s kickboxing class because I know exactly what to do there, and I can see that I do it well. This is extremely comforting and fun.

Figure 3. Crazy eyes. I thought about taking a new one when I looked at this later, but no! I have journalistic integrity and want you to see the real-deal face of me completing Elgin's kickboxing class.

Figure 3. Crazy eyes. I thought about taking a new one when I looked at this later, but no! I have journalistic integrity and want you to see the real-deal face of me completing Elgin’s kickboxing class.

Maybe if you were in a cardio kickboxing class, you would not know exactly what to do. That is fine. But I hope you have at least one thing where you do feel sure of yourself. You know what to do. You can check yourself out and see that you are nailing it. I think that is a good thing to find and cherish when research-related floundering inevitably happens. Eventually something will not work, but I am at peace because I can stare at my reflection for 50 minutes every Monday and punch really hard and squat really low and do that move that football players do where you bend your knees a little and move your feet up and down really, really fast. Elgin says “Uppercut let’s go” but what he says is “Jealousy wins you nothing, so abandon it in favor of focus and patience.”

Monday 5:31 PM – I’m smiling and I took this selfie (fig 3).

Tuesday 7:30 AM – Bummed that it is not Monday. Slightly sore.

Tuesday 11:45 AM – I realize I never checked my pulse during or after Elgin’s kickboxing class. Sorry.

If you ever want to go to kickboxing with me, or if you have a question about what I wrote, or if you realized that maybe 7 minutes is a slow clot and now you are worried about me, you can email me at emkline@emory.edu.

Posted in Local Field Potential | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Yes and” Brain Areas Identified

By Amielle Moreno

How do you test something as transient as “creativity” when the simple act of testing someone can lead to decreases in the very thing you seek to measure? A recent study out of the Reiss laboratory at Stanford produced a creative idea of their own to test creativity. The low pressure and innovative approach in this study attempted to solve this problem with a game and an fMRI machine.


A pack of wild dogs took over and successfully run this fMRI facility.

Large pieces of machinery such as functional Nuclear Magnetic Resonance machines, carry the hefty price tag of $316 to $600 an hour per participant. The name alone scared so many hospital patients that scientists dropped the word “nuclear.” Reimbursing participants (bribing) is often necessary to get them to willingly stick their head inside the giant magnet even when you’re trying to get them to play a game in the million dollar machine.

Recent research published in Nature attempts to understand the neural correlates recruited during Pictionary. The family friendly game that you played awkwardly with your new step-mom Susana or converted into a drinking game in college/last week was used in an fMRI machine to better understand what areas of the brain are responsible for creativity. First author Saggar made the point that creativity can be considered “a driving force behind all human progress1.”

What else but creativity is responsible for the human proclivity to identify patterns in randomness, leading ancient societies to create images and fables out of the constellations?


OK, how the hell is that a lion, ancient Greek man?

Design and Methods:

Pictionary prompts such as salute, snore and vote, were selected and graded for their difficulty by one set of participants. Then, another set of participants in an fMRI machine used a magnetic resonance-safe drawing tablet to either draw illustrations of these prompts during a 30 second time block or a random zigzag during another block.

pictionary prompts

If you ask me, it’s Grampa visiting South Carolina, the beginning of a “fail” video, CIA mind control and mailing your alimony check.

By contrasting the creative versus uncreative blocks, the researchers attempted to reveal “the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and creativity.” Images drawn during the creative blocks were then graded on creative content and subjective ease of guessing the prompt by two Pictionary Experts. While this might also be a major offered by Sarah Lawrence College, apparently you can obtain this position after earning a degree in Graphic Design from Stanford. Resumes were updated to include “Expert Guessers in Pictionary” post-study.

The researchers were left with mountains of data and yet again these humans sought to apply order to what might appear as randomness.



All of this leads to specific advice for the art of improvisation and Pictionary:

  1. Working Memory and Attention: Perhaps the most important thing to do in any improv scene is to listen to your partner and focus on the scene you’re building. Active listening and engagement is fueled by the attention network, including the frontal-parietal connection2. This functional connectivity can “initiate and adjust control on a trial-by trial basis.” Coherence between these two regions form “the central executive and visual sketchpad of the working memory system.”
  2. Goal Direction: Prime your cingulo-operacular connectivity to maintain stable, goal directed focus during your scenes/games. Because communication between the cingulate and the area adjacent to the insula is also associated with word-recognition, it may be particularly important during Pictionary or word associated improv games3.
  3. Shut Down Task-Control: Try to go with the flow. A fine distinction between goal directed focus, task-control involves task initiation, maintenance and adjustment4. Regions of the brain involved in task-control include the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. High BOLD signals in these brain regions are associated with less creative pictures.
  4. Creativity: To be more creative, try to activate both your bilateral cerebellum and inferior temporal gyrus. The activation of the cerebellum increased linearly with increases in creativity ratings. This study’s finding that cerebral-cerebellar interactions are active during the game Pictionary, separate from motor control and learning, indicates that this interaction is active during higher order cognitive functions which could be considered “creative.”

This is your brain on Pictionary. Modulation of fMRI activation during word-drawing condition using self-reported difficulty ratings (in red-yellow color scale) and expert creativity ratings (in blue-green color scale).



Improv greats, Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh. image from vanityfair.com

Anyone who’s paid to think or problem solve needs moments of creativity. This study posits that it was able to isolate creative thought and found an association between cerebral-cerebellar BOLD signal and spontaneous creativity. Two neuroscience grad students who do improv, Brendan O’Flaherty and Lukas Hoffmann, might tell you that with experience it’s possible to improve your creative performance on stage. Connections between specific brain regions need to be strengthened before you can become one of the great improvisational artists, or crush Susanna and her spoiled daughter during your next family vacation.

To strengthen your connectivity, check out Village Theatre or Highwire Comedy for classes.

1 Saggar M, Quintin EM, Kienitz E, Bott NT, Sun Z, Hong WC, Liu N, Dougherty RF, Royalty A, Hawthorne G, Reiss AL. Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity. Sci. Rep. 5, 10894; doi: 10.1038/srep10894 (2015).

2 Vaden KI, Kuchinsky SE, Cute SL, Ahlstrom JB, Dubno JR, Eckert MA. The cingulo-opercular network provides word-recognition benefit. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2013;33(48):18979-18986. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1417-13.2013.

3 Chawla D, Rees G, Friston KJ. The physiological basis of attentional modulation in extrastriate visual areas. Nature Neuroscience.1999; 2: 671 – 676 doi:10.1038/10230

4 Ptak R. The frontoparietal attention network of the human brain: action, saliency, and a priority map of the environment. Neuroscientist. 2011;18 (5):502-515.

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Fun Had By All: 3rd Annual Neuroscience Award Ceremony

IMG_2135Congratulations to all our 2015 student award winners! It’s time to update your CVs.

Outstanding Scientific Achievement: Kelly Lohr
Outstanding Early Achievement: Maria Briscione
Scientific Outreach: Carlie Hoffman
University Service: Natty Chalermpalanupap
Leadership: Ashley Sullivan
Excellence in Teaching: Karl Schmidt
Excellence in Mentorship: Zachary Johnson
GIN Faculty of the Year:  Malu Tansey
GIN Service Award: Maylen Perez Diaz
Director’s Impact Award:  Machelle Pardue
Director’s Unsung Hero Award: Don Noble
Excellence in Service: Gary Longstreet

Award winner Carlie Hoffman and her entourage. Chris is obviously Ari Gold.


And the winners for first in food line are… Of course, dominated by program veterans.

Our new Director with his award winning protege.

Our new Director with his award winning protege.


While grad students mingle, Monica Taylor smiles and plots the next GDBBS update for your spam folder.




Tom, as always, demonstrates his superior cheese stacking technique while in perfect cocktail attire.



“There’s the door, Don! What’s stopping you?”

"So a penguin and a farmer walk into a bar..."

“So a penguin and a farmer walk into a bar…”


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Confessions of an audio addict–Best Neuroscience and Behavior Podcasts — Grad Student Edition

By Ben Kuebrich, More writing from Ben can be found on his blog Neuroamer on WordPress.

Edited by Amielle Moreno

(If you’re a podcast convert and I’m preaching to the choir feel free to skip ahead to my list of the best neuroscience and behavior podcasts. If you’re new to podcasts and interested in getting started, here’s my advice:)

Hello,tumblr_ms4iosnp4G1rxpffao1_500 my name is Ben and I’m a podcast addict. I can’t remember when I started using, but I know that I can’t stop. Perhaps it’s genetic or environmental – my mom listened to books on tape and I spent my formative years over-hearing these tapes as she did household chores (is there a sensitive period for podcast dependency?).

I love music, but more and more it’s familiar voices sped up to chipmunk speeds that are emanating from my earbuds. So as much as it pains me to admit my mom is right about anything, I think she was onto something – audiobooks and podcasts are the way of the future.

Podcast ‘Facts’:

  1. Podcasts ‘a neologism and portmanteau derived from “broadcast” and “pod” from the success of the iPod,’ are episodic series that can be streamed from mobile devices like smartphones, so no advanced planning is required: (The best podcast apps seem to be Podcast Addict for android and Overcast for iPhones.)  Additionally you can stream them from your computer, or download podcast episodes using iTunes., If you subscribe to a podcast, it will update itself by automatically downloading new episodes when they’re released.


    Multitasking with a cellphone during your commute.

  2.  Podcasts are a great way to multitask during mindless talks, commutes, and exercise: They were a life-saver when I worked as a research tech and spent long hours moving mutated mice from shit-covered cage to shit-covered cage in a soulless basement apartment the day after Christmas in freezing Boston.
  3. Podcasts are an efficient way to take in information: You can control the audio speed, easily pause to take notes, and rewind if you’ve spaced out.

    Podcasts can make you S-M-R-T

    I use the android podcast app Podcast Addict, which has built-in control over the speed. Normally, I’ll speed up podcasts and listen to them as fast as I can get away with (starting slow at 1.2-1.3x but sometimes going as high as 2.5x to give slow drawlers the pressured speech of a manic chipmunk). Comedy is all about timing, but relative timing, and sped-up comedy if anything seems wittier and funnier, and in general everyone makes everyone seem smarter?

  4.  Podcasts are popular: You may have heard of the NPR podcast, and This American Life spinoff, and whodunnit murder mystery ‘Serial.’ A surprise success, in December 2014 Serial brought national attention to podcasts. More than just a news story about a murder mystery, NPR producers took advantage of a unique aspect of the podcast medium. The murder mystery explored in Serial was too long and complicated for a single radio episode. With flexible episode lengths, embedded links to supplementary material in the show notes, and real time serialreleasing of episodes as the journalism unfolded, the end serialchartresult was a completely binge-able story, unlike anything that could be released on radio or audiobook, and even elicited an NPR spoof:

As an aside, for anyone who loved serial I recommend This American Life and the HBO documentary The Jinx.


The only thing you should know about The Jinx before watching it. Also, Andy Richter no longer controls the universe, but he’s still got it.

  1. Podcasts can provide in depth coverage: Unconstrained by schedules, podcasts can vary in length and often go on the longer side, some last as long as 3 or 4 hours. This allows for real in-depth interviews with thinkers and celebrities that you’ll never hear on a late-night talk show.
  2. Podcasts democratize audio as anyone can release one: If you’d be interested in starting an Emory Neuroscience podcast, please hit me up.

So without further ado, here are my…


In rough order of sciency-ness and relevance to grad students, these picks are apples and oranges (and in one case an apple-orange). These podcasts can be a great way to hear how scientists talk and think, to get exposed to a variety of topics, and to keep up-to-date with this quickly moving field.

  1. UTSA’s Neuroscientist’s Talk Shop: NTSAs the name implies, NTS is hardcore neuroscience. It’s off-the-record-like speculation, on-the-record. Each episode has an invited guest who takes part in an informal discussion and answers questions posed by other neuroscientists, including my P.I. Sam Sober,and other familiar faces like Lena Ting and (early adopter back in 2011) Dieter Jaeger. Generally, the topics covered focus on computational neuroscience and electrophysiology. Often speakers assume listeners are well versed in the field, but even if you aren’t, you get a lot out of it by hearing the way scientists think, talk, and speculate on the gray areas of neuroscience. Frequency: varies 1-3 weeks during the school year ~45 min. Target Audience: Grad Student +High Proof
  2. High Proof Podcast: A podcast with a sense of humor, their tagline reads: “We demand high proof for our science and our spirits.” Two Graduate students, Ryan and Joel, pick interesting topics and I especially like the philosophical slant, though I wish they spent more time explain the background of the philosophy they cover. They could plan and research their topics a little better, but I also don’t want them to sacrifice the conversational tone. Frequency: ~1/wk 12 episodes total as I write this. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students
  3. Neuropod: Nature’s official Neuropodneuroscience podcast hosted by neuroscience journalist Elie Dolgin. Each episode is around a half hour and usually features 3-4 interviews on recent publications and reviews, this podcast is a great way to keep abreast of new research and show off during lab meeting. The website also has links to the papers if they peak your interest. The podcast has high production value on par with public radio. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~30 min. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students
  4. Brain Science Podcast LogoBrain Science Podcast: “The show for everyone who has a brain.” Hosted by an ER doctor with a background in research and engineering, Ginger Campbell, she does a huge service to the world by getting big name neuroscientists to talk in depth while keeping things accessible. It’s great for getting introduced to perspectives on neuropsychology. I also love that Dr. Campbell repeats and clarifies important points in the middle and end of episodes and always asks the guests to give advice to students. The website also features annotated transcripts of the episodes. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~1 hr. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students, Your Mom (Seriously. No, seriously tell your mom to listen to this and maybe she’ll stop asking you so many annoying questions about what you do.) (Mom if you ever read this, I’m joking around.)
  5. Naked Neuroscience Podcast: naked Neuro podcastA podcast recorded out of Cambridge University, this podcast has been around since 2001, but it’s new to me! This podcast includes news from European conferences and interviews with scientists from around the world. It has high production values, good stories, rigorous science, but as you can see from the picture a sense of humor as well. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~30 mins. Target Audience: Anyone interested in neurosciene with a sense of humor.
  6. NPR’s Invisibilia:Ivisibilia Think Radiolab focused on “the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” Hosted by rising stars Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, in each episode they interview scientists and craft small narratives around themes. For example, this season featured episodes on interactions with technology, blindness, and fear. The first season is 6 episodes, ~1 hr, more to come and hopefully soon! Target Audience: People who need something to talk about at cocktail parties.
  7. Freakonomics: Freakonomics“The hidden side of everything.” Hosted by the authors of the best-selling book of the same name, Freakanomics Radio podcast has released over 200 episodes since 2010. The show uses a narrative style and interviews to explain studies of behavioral economics–a field that uses economic statistical techniques and theory to determine what factor-like incentives drive the behavior of people and systems. Incredibly interesting and accessible, it doesn’t touch strictly on neuroscience, yet I would recommend it to any human being interested in behavior and decision-making. Frequency: 1/wk 30-60 mins. Target Audience: People who like to show off at cocktail parties.
  8. The Laughter Research PodcastGlen Duggan The guests of this podcast include not only professors, but comedians and entrepreneurs. This broader perspective is in part due to the host Glen Duggan. He’s a non-traditional psychology PhD candidate in Trinity College, Dublin, with a lot of real world experience. We briefly chatted on twitter and he seems like a genuinely great guy. Positive emotions like happiness and behaviors like laughter can be understudied compared to negative emotions, so the work he’s doing is very important. Frequency: ~ 2 episodes / month Target Audience: Lay people.
  9. All about Autism Podcast:autism pod If you’re interested in psychiatric disease or autism, this niche podcast is a fascinating and easy listen. This podcast is co-hosted by Heather and Dave Eaton, the co-owners and co-founders of Eaton Alliance Inc., which supports individuals with disabilities, specializing in autism. You get to hear a less academic, but extremely well informed perspective on autism. In some ways these hosts are far more informed than most academics as to the everyday lives of patients. A powerful force for good in the world right now, this podcast educates and rebuffs the misconception that vaccines cause autism. (To repeat the obvious, there is no scientific evidence showing vaccines cause autism and many have looked. The one original study that did show this has been shown to be a fraud propagated by a scientist with a conflict of interest.) Frequency: Used to be once a week, but now closer to once a month. Target Audience: anyone interested in science communication and a patient’s perspective.
  10. Talking Machines: talking machines“Human Conversation about Machine Learning” – A machine-learning podcast, but I think that a lot of neuronal learning is going to resemble machine learning. Anyways, it’s probably good knowledge to have, seeing as we’re on the precipice of another industrial-revolution with machine learning that will put a lot of white-collar workers out of business, or living in a simulation created by ‘a hypothetical, but inevitable, singular ultimate superintelligence may punish those who fail to help it or help create it. See, I learn useless junk by listening to podcasts!

As I mentioned above, I’m a podcast addict, so I’d love to hear what you’re listening to and what you’d recommend, even podcasts that aren’t directly related to neuroscience and behavior. Also, if you liked this post and want to see more like it please share it. If you want updates on what I’m thinking and listening to please follow me on twitter, or like the Neuroamer page on facebook.


Non-neuroscience podcasts that I think are worth checking out: Radio Lab, This American Life, Planet Money, Fresh Air, 60 Minutes Pop Culture Happy Hour, DVDASA, Monday Morning Podcast with Bill Burr, Harmontown, Judge John Hodgman Podcast, Human Conversation, Nature Podcast, Science Podcast, New Yorker Fiction, Yoshi Didn’t, Science Friday, Song Exploder, Startup Podcast, 4 Hour Work Week Podcast, Joe Rogan Podcast, Duncan Trussel Family Hour Podcast, Smartest Man in the World w/ Greg Proops, The Nerdist, This Feels Terrible, Upvoted, WTF with Marc Maron, Yale Humanities, You Made it Weird.

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