Kavli Prize

Looks like it’s science prize week on neuroecology… I missed that the Kavli prize winners were announced earlier this month. The Kavli Prize goes to researchers in astrophysics, nanophysics, and neuroscience (yeah, I don’t get the connection either.)

This year’s neuroscience winners are Brenda Milner, John O’Keefe, and Marcus E. Raichle “for the discovery of specialized brain networks for memory and cognition.” The summaries of their work:

Brenda Milner discovered regions of the brain specialized for memory formation and other cognitive functions.  She found that HM, a neurological patient with damage to the hippocampus and surrounding regions, could not acquire new memories of events, but could speak, reason and recall long-past memories.

John O’Keefe discovered that the hippocampus contains neurons that encode an animal’s specific location. These place cells allow detection of novelty and changes in familiar environments and collectively form a cognitive map critical for animal navigation behaviour.

Marcus E. Raichle designed methods for visualizing the activity of the normal living human brain. These techniques permitted the quantitative measurements of blood flow and metabolism in localized regions of the brain and provided the basis for all modern functional imaging studies.

Nature Reviews Neuroscience has an interview with the three winners (paywall, sadly). This left me flabbergasted:

In 1936, I went to Cambridge University to study mathematics but soon realized that I would never distinguish myself in that field. I thought of switching to philosophy because I was still attracted to the study of logic but my colleagues advised me to try experimental psychology instead, since it would be easier to find a job afterwards. It turned out to be a very good choice.

1936?! And this woman is still receiving awards? I don’t know whether to be proud of her or terrified. Interestingly, two of the three winners specifically mentioned their interest in philosophy. How many would these days?




New HHMI Professors announced for 2014

HHMI announced a new slate of professors to be inducted into their Professors program. This program is specifically for faculty who are both excellent researchers and teachers; it’s nice to see the latter actually rewarded.

Here are the Professors who are most relevant to the theme of the blog; they’re all doing good stuff. Mark Goldman gave a talk at Cosyne a couple of years ago where he was making connections between neurons and ants, so you know he’s got my respect just for that.

Mark Goldman (Lab website)

Mathematics and computer modeling are important tools in Mark Goldman’s neuroscience research, allowing him to dissect the cellular and circuit mechanisms that enable the brain to store memories, control motor function, and carry out other complex functions. He wants to prepare future scientists to take the same quantitative approach to biology. The educational initiatives he has launched are creating new opportunities for students to develop skills that span the mathematical, computational, and biological sciences.

Joseph Jez (Lab Website)

For Joseph Jez, science is a multidisciplinary endeavor. In his lab at Washington University in St. Louis, he combines structural biology, protein chemistry, and molecular and cellular biology to understand biochemical networks in plants and microbes. His aim is to engineer those systems to address agricultural and environmental problems. He shares that approach with his students, encouraging them to explore all available tools to find solutions to real-world problems.

Tracy Johnson (Lab Website)

Tracy Johnson is a biologist and educator who studies how cells synthesize, splice, and process RNA to regulate gene expression. Studies from her lab lay the groundwork for explaining why the splicing of genes is tightly coupled to transcription, as well as how the chromatin state of a cell influences splicing.  Her findings have important implications for understanding how changes in chromatin caused by development or environmental perturbations alter gene expression via splicing changes.

Susan McConnell (Lab Website)

In her lab at Stanford, McConnell is working to understand how neural circuits are constructed in the mammalian brain. She explores several key steps in that developmental process: how neurons are produced as the brain’s cerebral cortex develops, how new neurons are assigned their identities, and how those cells are wired together into information-processing circuits.

Andrew Murray (Lab Website)

In his lab at Harvard University, Andrew Murray asks how organisms evolve under selective pressure and control the transmission of genetic information from generation to generation. Outside the lab, he is working to offer undergraduate students a more integrated, engaging, and accessible science education.

Aydogan Ozcan (Lab Website)

Aydogan Ozcan is an engineer and science educator who is passionate about interdisciplinary research—both in his own work and in the work of his students. His scientific achievements have reached across traditional outlets for engineering and into the realm of telemedicine and global health applications. Specifically, he focuses on the use of computation to create new optical microscopy, sensing, and diagnostic techniques, significantly improving existing tools for probing micro- and nano-objects while also simplifying the designs of these analysis tools.