This weekend, a swarm of brain scientists will descend upon Chicago for one of the world’s largest annual scientific meetings: Neuroscience 2009. More than 30,000 people will pack themselves into McCormick Place on the Near South Side to hear speakers like new NIH director Francis Collins, view scientific posters in a room the size of multiple football fields, check out the latest in laboratory and medical technology and (most importantly, for some) mingle their way through a multitude of nighttime socials. In my former life as a scientist, I attended a half-dozen of these meetings, and always found it to be a gluttonous experience – sort of the neuroscience equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner. This year, I’ll be soaking in the conference from a writer’s perspective, and will be blogging frequently during the conference’s Saturday through Wednesday run.
To whet your appetite for the latest in brain science, I’ll spend most of the week talking about some exciting neuroscientific research happening here at the University of Chicago. Purely by coincidence, there are a handful of interesting new findings from researchers in our neurobiology program hot off the scientific journal press, and I’ll feature a couple of those studies this week. Today, you’ll hear about a study that combines genetics, behavioral observation and electrophysiology to reveal an important component of how the brain changes and learns. Later this week, I’ll preview an upcoming lecture on the neurobiology of humor and discuss how eating chocolate chips reduces pain. Then I’ll round up some of the more exciting talks and events in store for this year’s edition of Neuroscience, including a gathering of researchers who study the “reward” neurotransmitter dopamine that will likely include some self-experimentation, if you will.
In the meantime, if you’d like a taste of the Neuroscience experience, here’s a long, rambling, slightly profane piece I wrote about the conference in Atlanta three years ago.