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SBU Hosts Top Brain Researchers March 31

Mind brain neurons 1

Stony Brook University is continuing to bring the brightest minds in brain research to campus with its upcoming Mind Brain lecture featuring William Newsome, Director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute and Co-chair, Advisory Committee, President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative. His visit on March 31 is on the heels of a lecture by his co-chair of the BRAIN Initiative, Cornelia Bargmann, professor at Rockefeller University and co-director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Behavior. Bergmann was recently the keynote speaker at the Neurosciences Institute’s Fourth Annual Meeting of the Minds Symposium, held this past semester. She shared the findings of her study of the relationships between genes, circuits and behaviors in the worm, C. elegans. Stony Brook is the only university to have both co-chairs of the BRAIN Initiative speak on campus since the announcement of President Obama’s plan to focus research on the brain.

Explore the Mysteries of the Mind
During his March 31 lecture at the Staller Center Professor Newsome will explore how neurons in your brain help you make decisions. And what do the secrets these neurons hold mean for the future of brain science? Newsome will answer these questions and more during the 18th Annual Swartz Foundation Mind/Brain Lecture on Monday, March 31, at 4:30 pm in the Staller Center for the Arts. Newsome will present his latest research findings in a presentation entitled “Perceiving and Deciding: From Single Neurons to Population Dynamics.”

For the past half-century, systems neuroscientists have been engaged in a charmingly quixotic quest: to understand sophisticated brain functions such as perception and decision-making by studying 100 billion (or so) nerve cells one at a time. This agenda is roughly similar to understanding the operation of a modern supercomputer by studying it one transistor at a time. The “single neuron” quest has been far more successful than we had any right to expect at the outset, yet its limitations are becoming increasingly clear. While penetrating insights can still be obtained one neuron at a time, deeper understanding will require measurements of neural population dynamics combined with incisive new theoretical work. Drawing from three decades of work in his own laboratory, Newsome will take us on a no-holds-barred tour of this research progression — including the good, the bad and the ugly. He will close with some educated speculation about what the future holds for brain science and discuss his involvement in President Obama’s BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative.

William Newsome

About the Speaker
Bill Newsome is the Harman Family Provostial Professor, director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, and professor of neurobiology and (by courtesy) psychology at Stanford University. He began his academic career at Stony Brook University as an assistant professor in 1984 in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior before moving to Stanford in 1988. He now teaches graduate and medical courses in neuroscience, and co-teaches an undergraduate course on social and ethical issues in the neurosciences.

Newsome is a leading investigator in sensory and cognitive neuroscience and has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying visual perception and simple forms of decision making. Among his honors are the Rank Prize for Optoelectronics, the Spencer Award for highly original contributions to research in neurobiology, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Dan David Prize, and the Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society. Most recently, he was asked to co-chair the Advisory Committee for President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.

The lecture, hosted by the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, is intended for a general audience. Admission is free but seating is limited so please arrive early. A reception with the speaker will immediately follow the talk. The event is hosted by the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. For more on the lecture and links to Professor Newsome’s recent interviews, visit

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