Director’s Channel September 2020

IONs Director, Paul Katz

As the tragedy of COVID-19 continues to spread, we are learning to adapt to our new online lifestyle. In the spring, our seminar speakers all canceled because they were hoping to be able to visit in person the following year; the idea of giving a virtual talk was not appealing. Now, all of those speakers have agreed to give remote seminars. As a result, we have an incredible lineup for the 2020-2021 Distinguished Neuroscience Lectures. These lectures are presented as part of the Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate Program Seminar Series.

I am especially thrilled that next month, Erich Jarvis will be giving three talks in collaboration with the College of Natural Sciences Distinguished Scientist and Engineer Lecture Series and also in collaboration with the Fine Arts Center at UMass. Erich has a very interesting history as a dancer and as a Black scientist, which he will be sharing along with his incredible research on vocal learning.

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Director’s Channel August 2020

Paul Katz, IONs Director

Science has an essential role is to play in modern society. Science is the engine that allows the economy to grow; it creates the innovation for new devices and new knowledge for that improves lives. Currently, we are depending upon science to develop a vaccine to rescue us from the COVID-19 pandemic. But developing the vaccine is only one step towards ending the ongoing tragedy; recent polls found that as few as 50% of Americans are willing to be vaccinated. Science is not enough, people need to be able to understand the knowledge that is gained through science and trust its application.

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Director’s Channel, July 2020

Humans, as a species, have a remarkable capacity to adapt rapidly to environmental challenges by cooperating in groups. Our group identities are based on shared norms and beliefs that get reinforced by the group. However, these beliefs are not necessarily egalitarian, fair, or even humane. Our country is currently facing several challenges simultaneously: COVID-19, economic collapse, systemic racism and police brutality. These crises are being exacerbated by clashes of beliefs fostered by different groups: partisanship, anti-science beliefs, xenophobia, nationalism, and racism. We need to combat these beliefs if we are going to adapt and thrive as a society.

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Director’s Channel, May/June 2020

IONs Director, Paul Katz

In these troubled times, community is very precious. It takes effort to maintain a community when you don’t just bump into people in the hallways or at seminars. We have lost opportunities such as the annual awards dinner to meet and celebrate our students’ accomplishments. Please read about the winners of the Golden Neuron Award and the Vincent Dethier Prize. I am particularly impressed by work of Melise Edwards and Kate Otter, who shared the Early Career Award.  Melise is leading (Mentorship for Under-represented STEM Enthusiasts), which aims to provide representation and mentorship to groups in STEM. She is only a first-year PhD student, but she is an active leader in peer mentorship. Kate Otter has been running a Social Justice Discussion group, which relates social justice to science. I attended the most recent group (via Zoom, of course) and it inspired me to think more deeply about how our perception of the world is determined by our identity and our community. There is a concept in ethology called the Umwelt, which is just German for environment. It refers to how an animal experiences the world. We may think that our own experience of the world is universal and that if anything, animals experience an impoverished version of the world that we see, hear, and smell around us. But, this is far from the truth. Continue reading Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Director’s Channel – March 2020

IONs Director, Paul Katz

Wow, the breadth of neuroscience special events going on in March at UMass is astounding from Biomedical engineering to primate cognition. Leading off on March 2nd, we have Judson Brewer coming to the Old Chapel to talk about mindfulness and addiction. There will be a reception after his talk. March 6th is another special talk by Laurie Santos on primate theory of mind. March 9th, Damien Fair will be giving the CNS Distinguished Scientist and Engineer Lecture and March 11th Danielle Lee will be giving a BRIDGE lecture. Later in the month, Lynn Nadel will be giving a Neuroscience Distinguished Lecture on the nature of memory and space.

This diversity makes me appreciate the diversity of the Neurosciences. There is no one best way to understand the brain. The human brain is an extraordinarily complicated organ with 100 trillion neurons forming a thousand times more connections. Understanding, how this biological device evolved, how it self-assembles, how it functions to control the body, and how it continuously changes to store memories requires a multitude of approaches.  Continue reading Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Director’s Channel – February 2020

IONs Director: Paul Katz

February may be the shortest month, but we have a lot going on. I am particularly pleased to be hosting this month’s Distinguished Neuroscience Lecture, Eve Marder. She has been a big influence on me and others in the field. In addition to the seminars, the Neuroscience & Behavior (NSB) Program is going to have its annual recruitment open house. We’re excited to meet the next class of PhD students. We also in the process of submitting an NSF  graduate training grant to support students in several graduate programs called Team Research in Biological Neurotechnology (TRiBioNT). If successful, it will help fund students in three life sciences graduate programs (NSB, OEB, MCB) and two engineering programs (ECE and MIE). There are several themes running through the proposal. One is to reintegrate Neuroscience more with other life-sciences graduate programs. Another is to engage engineers to build devices for studying the brain and to be inspired by not just the human brain, but the amazing neural computations that animals can do.  Continue reading Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Director’s Channel – January 2020

IONs Director, Paul Katz

It’s the beginning of a new year and full of anticipation. Neuroscience labs have started to move into the newly renovated space in the Morrill Science Center. There is a great line up of speakers for the spring 2020 Distinguished Neuroscience Lecture Series:

Mark your calendars for the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference on May 11th, which features as Keynote speaker, Nobel Laureate Thomas Südhof. Other exciting talks are in the works.

For my New Year’s resolution, I resolved to write more about what I’m thinking in this Director’s Channel. Continue reading Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Director’s Channel – December 2019

Paul Katz, IONs Director

It’s the end of the year already and, depending on who you ask, the end of the decade. Time to take stock of the last year in UMass Neurosciences. Check out the highlights from 2019. It’s been a very successful year with many amazing discoveries and awards. This year IONs focused on creating bridges between Neuroscience and Engineering. We hope to continue to build those bonds as we look for opportunities to cooperate. Please take a moment to fill out this short survey regarding Neurotechnology collaborations.

The coming year has some exciting events including the annual Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference on May 11th, which will feature Thomas Sudhof as the keynote speaker. The focus this year is on “Neural Connectivity: from Synapses to Behavior”. Other events will be announced in the new year so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of the winter season here in New England.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Director’s Channel – November 2019

Neuroscience Director Paul Katz with his dogs.

November is a glorious month in Amherst. The leaves are in full color, the air is crisp, and research is in full swing. We have three really exciting Neuroengineering seminars this month including a Distinguished Lecture by Ed Boyden of MIT, the co-inventor of optogenetics and the Alexander Lecture by Michael Dickinson of CalTech. The renovations on the new Neuroscience wing of Morrill Science Center are now complete. Check out the pictures and story. There are many exciting new projects in the works. Continue reading Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

IONs Director’s Channel – October 2019

The fall is a beautiful time of year in New England and the neurosciences are thriving. The latest class of Neuroscience & Behavior Grad students have settled in and are thriving. The Center for Neuroendocrine Studies Symposium was a big success, featuring several inspiring speakers from across the country. Mark your calendars for the Annual Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference on May 11, 2020. Coming up sooner is the Western Mass Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience Conference on Oct 15th. This is a chance to practice your poster presentation or just see all of the great work that will presented at the annual SfN meeting in Chicago. Here is a list of all of the UMass presentationsContinue reading Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail