Afternoon of Science Series Continues with Department of Neuroscience

The Afternoon of Science series at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons continued Sept. 26 with presentations from Department of Neuroscience faculty members. The series offers basic science departments and institutes the opportunity to share their latest science and thoughts about the future.

Rudy Behnia presents at the Department of Neuroscience's Afternoon of Science event

“This series of events ensures that we’re supporting our basic science departments as we strive to have the greatest impact on human health and biological sciences,” said Katrina Armstrong, MD, dean of VP&S, in her remarks at the event. “We are known globally for our achievement in neuroscience, and we’re very fortunate to spend the afternoon hearing about the science happening in the department and where we are going next.”

Steven A. Siegelbaum and Katrina Armstrong at the Department of Neuroscience Afternoon of Science event.

The event was hosted by Steven A. Siegelbaum, PhD, chair of the Department of Neuroscience, who spoke about the department’s history and recent years of growth and achievement, including the opening of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center building in 2017, which is home to the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. With one exception, faculty with primary appointments in the Department of Neuroscience are members of the Zuckerman Institute with labs in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, where they collaborate with faculty members from 12 departments across the University studying mind, brain. and behavior. (Other VP&S departments that conduct research in mind, brain, and behavior: biochemistry & molecular biophysics, genetics & development, neurology, neurological surgery, pathology & cell biology, physiology & cellular biophysics, radiology, and psychiatry).

Attendees at the Sept. 26 event included external advisers from New York University and the University of Pennsylvania; Daphna Shohamy, PhD, Kavli Professor of Brain Science and director and CEO of the Zuckerman Institute; and Nobel laureates Richard Axel, MD, University Professor and co-director of the Zuckerman Institute, and Eric R. Kandel, MD, University Professor Emeritus and founding co-director of the Zuckerman Institute.

From left: Denise Kandel, Eric Kandel, Stavros Lomvardas, and Richard Axel

“This is a remarkable time for neuroscience research at Columbia and for all scientists working across the university,” Siegelbaum said. “Neuroscience does not end or begin with the department. The depth and breadth of neuroscience research at Columbia is best demonstrated by hearing these presentations from our rising stars, who illustrate just how wide the field is.”

Presentations were given by the following faculty members:

  • Ashok Litwin-Kumar, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
    Presentation: “Constraining models of learning and memory with a synaptic wiring diagram”
    Litwin-Kumar’s research focuses on learning algorithms and their neural implementations. He seeks to better understand how organisms use their past experiences to adapt their current behavior and how these neural algorithms compare to those studied in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • Minoree Kohwi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
    Presentation: “Restructuring the 3D organization of the neuroblast genome in neural diversification”
    Kohwi investigates how different types of cells are generated in the developing brain by examining the dynamic organization of genes that guide the growth of undifferentiated cells in the brain, known as neural stem cells. She hopes this work will one day lead to effective harnessing of stem cells to understand development and neural diseases.
  • Rudy Behnia, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
    Presentation: “Hue selectivity from recurrent circuitry in Drosophila”
    Behnia studies how our brains see the world around us, focusing on the ways in which brain cells in the visual system process movement, such as a ball flying through the air. She is also interested in understanding how we can distinguish the colors of objects in our surroundings. Studying how we see motion and color will reveal fundamental principles of how the brain processes and interprets complex sensory information.
  • Dmitriy Aronov, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
    Presentation: “Using food-caching birds to study the neuroscience of episodic memory”
    Aronov studies memory and hopes to understand the complex ways experience translates into action. His research addresses how neural activity dynamics relate to the states of cognitive experience, like memories and thoughts. He seeks to find patterns of activity that underlie the storage and recall of a memory and determine how this activity drives behavior.
  • Mark Churchland, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience
    Presentation: “Understanding large-scale neural computations”
    Churchland studies how the brain plans, triggers, and executes movement, with potential ramifications for people suffering from paralysis, missing limbs, and Parkinson’s disease.

The Afternoon of Science series, part of a year-long scientific prioritization process, is designed to facilitate collaboration and coordination across VP&S. The series began in June with the Department of Genetics & Development and the Institute for Cancer Genetics and will continue with the Department of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics on Oct. 30 and the Department of Microbiology & Immunology on Nov. 16.