What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Go to Grad School

By Thomas HennesseyTommyDancer

Congratulations! Probably! I mean you’ve decided to attend grad school  so pat yourself on the back, you’re doing fine, don’t sweat it so much. If all goes accordingly you’ll be starting graduate school in a future fall and you’re probably wondering: what will it be like? How will my life change here? Good news! You can learn the answer to these questions by simply continuing to move your eyes down this page.

  • Everyone here is super smart. Seriously, it’s bananas the brains we got walking smart raptorabout. You might be used to being the smartest cat in the kennel but that’s going to change. So if being the smartest is the only thing you’ve been basing your identity on, it’ll be quite an adjustment indeed. Personally I took some solace from still being the handsomest. And just remember …
  • What you know is not as important as what you can learn. If you’ve got a solid background in your discipline. That’ll be great for…a month, maybe two. Within a week you’ll be diving in to subjects so deep you’ll get the bends. By the time you’ve been here a couple years you should be on your way to being a world expert on whatever tiny sliver of the brain you decide to focus your effort on. And that’s important because…
  • Soon you won’t be learning knowledge, you’ll be generating it. Sure, you’ll never stop reading up on new developments in your field, if only to curse the other labs that beat you to the punch. But creating science, de novo, is very different from passively receiving it. Prepare for experiments not working, ideas not panning out, angry villagers storming the lab, and most of your plans going extravagantly awry. But keep at it. Because ultimately, being the first person on the planet to know something? That’s a very special feeling. Of course while you’re working on all this you’ve got to keep in mind…DarkRoom.jpeg
  • You need to take care of the rest of your life too. Underneath all the science you still have to make it in this crazy world. Apartment hunting, bill paying, food buying, relationship having, and carving out something away from the lab to stay sane. Maybe you like yoga, or snorkeling, or hunting the most dangerous game of all – Man. It’ll feel like you can’t afford to waste the time but taking care of yourself pays a lot of dividends over the long haul.

And it is a pretty long haul, but in the end I think it’s worth it. You’ll have added to the sum total of human knowledge, pushing our species just a little closer to that magical day we invent super intelligent machines to solve all our problems almost certainly without killing everyone. Probably. It won’t be easy, but what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. Good luck, and welcome to the club!
Thomas Hennessey

Emory Neuroscience Class of 2010

Handsome Scientist

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Methylations that are Making Your Kid Fat (You won’t believe protein #5!)

By Amielle Moreno

Eating behavior is a choice, yet we often forget that urges to eat are regulated not just by the discomfort of an empty stomach, but by complex feeding systems that induce hunger and satiety. A combination of logic and impulse is involved every time we put calories in our mouths and the lasting changes these calories enact in our bodies and specifically our DNA is only now being discovered.

By adding a methyl group (-CH3) methylationto a section of DNA it becomes more difficult for transcription machinery to read it. In this way the expression of genes can be controlled by DNA methylation and research suggests that these modifications can be passed on to the next generation.

In a recent issue of Cell, first author Ida Donkin examined the sperm of human men to determine if these epigenetic modifications are altered by feeding behavior. In her scientific paper Obesity and Bariatric Surgery Drive Epigenetic Variations of Spermatozoa in Humans, mass-sequencing results identified the location of DNA methylation modifications in the genome of Lean, Obese, Pre-bariatric (think stomach bypass) and Post-bariatric surgery men’s sperm.

Among many genes associated with anatomical structure and cell fate, neuro-proteins were also differentially methylated between the experimental groups, indicating that not only does eating behavior enact epigenetic modifications, but also that methylation patterns are passed from father to offspring. Here are the top six neuro-proteins Donkin’s found set up to be expressed differently between overweight and lean men.


Take that, New Year’s resolution! (Lizarbe, 2013)

jabathyroidMelanocortin-4 Receptor (MC4R): Compared to Hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome, MC4R is a less commonly known inherited cause of childhood and adult obesity. Genome-wide studies of body mass index (BMI) confirmed the link between obesity and having DNA variants downstream of the MC4R gene (Loos, 2008). Highly expressed in the hypothalamus, MC4R plays an essential role in energy balance (Siljee, 2013).

Hererozygous mutations are responsible for uncontrolled release of growth hormones, causing increased height and weight starting in childhood (2.5 to 6% of all cases) and continuing into adulthood (5.8% of adult obesity cases) (Siljee, 2013; Farooqi, 2003). This receptor is responsible for homeostatic signals indicating that fat is being ingested (Butler, 2001). By letting the body “sense” the intake of dietary fat, activation of this receptor regulates both the metabolic and behavioral response to food by curbing hyperphagia (overeating).

With high methylation patterns, Obese men’s sperm in the study were less likely to allow receptor expression, potentially making it more difficult to “sense” food intake. Clinical trials using compounds, which activate MC4R, are currently being performed in the hopes of finding an appetite curbing treatment with few side-effects.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): Thought to be involved with everything from Schizophrenia to drug addiction, BDNF has its hands on everything. The bdnf gene’s expression increases neuron growth and it linked to long-term potentiation and long-term memory. Physical exercise has been shown to increase the synthesis of BDNF in the human brain, improving cognitive function, neurogenesis and mood (Szuhany, 2015). Donkin’s has found evidence that simply by decreasing weight via surgery, the methylation of a gene associated with cognition can change. Thus “GBP-induced weight loss modulates the epigenetic landscape of spermatozoa and alters specific genomic regions” in genes associated with cognition.


Just a collection of letters and shapes (Schwartz, 2012).

Neuropeptide Y (NPY): This protein provides you everything you ever wanted in life: reduced anxiety and stress, reduced pain perception, lower blood pressure… except for the part about increasing fat storage, and carbohydrate appetite (Stanley, 1986). To aid in homeostasis, our adipose tissues produce peptide hormones. These signals are sensed by receptors,

such as MC4R, in the hypothalamus brain region to regulate appetite.

Peptides, such as leptin and insulin, shut down the release of NPY to curb

This research has prompted Cinnabon to expand into the standardized testing business.


There is a strong link between stress and this potent appetite enhancer because the glucocoritcoid hormones produced during stress leads to an increase in NPY release (Arora, 2006). More like a dimmer than an on-off light switch, the amount of NPY released during stress is correlated to the level of stress experienced (Kuixing, 2012).

Cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CR1): Cannabinoid receptors are the most highly expressed G-protein receptors in the brain (Glass, 1997). Unfortunately, studies are limited by the fact that CR1 has different expression patterns in mice compared to humans. Receptor activation in mice mostly leads to them running around more, because of the heavy cerebellum expression, leaving scientists with no good model organisms for experimentation.


If only academic scientists had a population of potential test subjects willing to experiment with drugs

In humans, CR1 is expressed in so many different areas of the human brain that listing them wouldn’t help explain its actions. But perhaps its expression in the areas of the brain involved with processing reward, such as the basal ganglia and substantia nigra, could explain its connection to feeding behavior. Any Washingtonian or Coloradan knows that ingesting the exogenous THC molecule will induce feeding behavior, because of its interaction with the CR1 receptor (Williams, 1999). Even though its activation is not essential for feeding behavior, blocking CR1 would lead to better control of appetite. However, few clinical trials have assessed intervention that up regulates the eCB system, presenting a need to explore it as a promising intervention (Williams, 2014).

Cocaine Archer

Have you tried cocaine!?

Cocaine and Amphetamine related transcript (CART): CART is a neuropeptide that produces similar behavior in animals to cocaine and amphetamine, such as increased locomotor and a preference for places associated with the drug (Nakhate, 2011). CART peptide’s expression is regulated by leptin and ghrelin and interacts with several hypothalamic appetite circuits. Researchers have targeted this peptide as a possible treatment for eating disorders, cocaine abuse and even Parkinson’s disease, yet its receptor is still unknown.

Donkin’s study reports the methylation of a number of “distal intergenic” areas. Located between genes, distal intergenic is another way of saying junk DNA which, is another way of saying we don’t know what it does yet. The CART and NPY genes show higher levels of methylation in the sperm of Lean versus Obese men at specific distal intergenic areas. This finding suggests that these locations are not junk DNA but are involved with increasing CART gene expression, making them prime targets for future experimental research.

Behind cravings and overeating there’s a complex neurological system ready to be blamed. Donkin’s paper provides evidence that simply reducing intake (post-GBP surgery group) can affect the expression of 2681 genes, which are differently expressed between Obese and Lean men. Although this new article still doesn’t answer the pressing question of “how” spermatozoa production factors in recent behavior or environmental changes, it indicates the existence of an epigenetic mechanism, which could effect behavior across generations. Perhaps the most important takeaway is that methylation can change to aid in more healthy homeostatic regulation benefiting the individual and their offspring.

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“42!” Or “A Morality Informed by Science”

  by Jacob BillingsJacob

What is the meaning of life? While such a question is intractable to address, some meaning might be gathered by exploring how the most rapidly evolving world view, the sciences, stand in juxtaposition against traditional influences on individual morality.Briefly, let’s lay out a snapshot of this expanding domain of shared knowledge.

Humans are definitely composed of stuff, and this stuff does everything we know to be happening. On the other hand, social moralities are those precepts that guide individual behavior. They are the direct antecedents to the question, “What should I do?”

For some, the worldview offered by the sciences provides a valuable and satisfying collection of expectations that effectively predict an action’s resolution. Such predictions are highly valuable because what we decide to do is always a well-constructed estimate of optimal behavior to adopt given one’s present knowledge about the world. Thus to know new things about the world is to influence behavior.

From this perspective, a scientific morality is qualitatively different than traditional moralizing. For instance: Whereas the description of a Christ ultimately provides a medium for Christians to directly enunciate the moral code of an archetypically perfect person, the sciences observe in the variety of human behaviors how each is embedded within personal and collective experiences.

Because the sciences have dispensed with the concept of transcendent perfection, the moral guidance provided by the sciences is subjective. The aggregates of stuff that we observe around us are there because they have adopted some sustainable form. The celestial bodies are roughly spherical, crystalline structures facilitate the seeding of new crystals, and people living in harmony with the environment tend to meet fewer periods of destructive opposition. Projecting this sustainability principle onto the individual level, optimal decision making tends to support the well-being of the self as well as the environment in which the self abides. And because species that despoil the environment at the cost of their offspring tend to go extinct, the people who we find today tend to share an evolved motivation to work towards the benefit of future generations.

Rather than relying on a transcendent value system for a set of rules by which to live a moral life, a scientific morality thus motivates good living through understanding how to operate within the environment.

So who’s up for a discussion about global climate change…?

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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.
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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.

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