The human brain is perhaps the most complex structure in the universe, containing something in the neighborhood of 100 billion neurons. To put that in perspective, if 100 billion people were to stand shoulder to shoulder (picture a crowded concert), they would occupy an area the combined size of Rhode Island and Connecticut. But neurons are also wired to each other in enormous networks, communicating and interacting to perform all the brain’s functions. So imagine every single one of those 100 billion people having phone calls with anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 other people. All at once.
From these trillions upon trillions of neuronal conversations arises every breath, thought and sensation; everything that every human has ever done. How the brain accomplishes this feat is profoundly mysterious, and there are questions about virtually all its structures and functions. But these questions are some of the most important ever asked. It’s Brain Awareness Week, and researchers and educators around the world are engaging in a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.
On April 1st, a panel of University of Chicago neuroscientists will do their part to share exciting breakthroughs and provide fascinating insights into our brain, body and behavior in an evening of TED-style talks, free and open to the public. The event, “Brain Teasers: Cracking the Mind’s Toughest Riddles” will feature members of the University of Chicago’s new Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology, and Human Behavior. Some of the questions they will address:
- Why do some of us choke under pressure, while others perform “in the zone” during a big game or test?
- Why will a rat pass up a yummy piece of chocolate to free a fellow rat who is trapped instead?
- What treatments are on the horizon for people with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia?
- Will individuals who have lost limbs or suffer from tetraplegia even be able to touch, feel or manipulate objects again?
Moderating the discussion will be John Maunsell, PhD, Albert D. Lasker Professor in Neurobiology and Director of the Grossman Institute. Joining him are:
Sliman Bensmaia, PhD, Assistant Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy, whose research has provided a blueprint for developing touch-sensitive prosthetics.
Peggy Mason, PhD, Professor in Neurobiology, who discovered that rats exhibit empathy-like helping behavior.
James Mastrianni, MD, Associate Professor in Neurology and Co-Director, Center for Comprehensive Care and Research on Memory Disorders, who is an expert on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Sian Beilock, PhD, Professor in Psychology, Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives, and author of “Choke” and “How the Body Knows Its Mind.”
When and Where: 6 to 8 p.m., Performance Hall at the University of Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., Chicago. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The center has a café inside and free parking. Advance RSVP is appreciated at https://discoveryseries.uchicago.edu/content/rsvp-brain-teasers-cracking-minds-toughest-riddles. The event is the latest installment of the UChicago Discovery Series, a public speaker series sponsored by the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories.