Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Vanderbilt

This year, the Vanderbilt Brain institute is partnering with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to provide neuroscience seminars to the general public. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Vanderbilt University is an organization that strives to provide community members with stimulating intellectual and cultural pursuits. OLLI offers non-credit courses which allow students to benefit from invigorating lectures and discussions in an informal, supportive and relaxed environment. It is an organization that provides fifty and over adults with educational programs, stimulating tours, trips and cultural activities and events. OLLI is a cohesive group that projects a true sense of community and always welcomes new members. For additional information, and to register, please visit OLLI.

Fall 2014 Classes - October 8-November 12 (Wednesdays from 11am-12:15pm): From Neurons to Perception: Insights into Brain Function and Dysfunction

October 8, 2014 - Randolph Blake, Ph.D.

The Neuroscience of Reality: Your Brain Fabricates What You Perceive

Breakthroughs in computer vision technology are repeatedly on the news as it seems possible now to build self-driving cars and automated face recognition using public surveillance cameras. At the same time, we have gotten used to identify ourselves as humans online by solving simple-seeming visual puzzles at which computers fail (CAPTCHAs). What causes this discrepancy between our visual performance and modern technology? Drawing from recent experiments that measured how single brain cells respond to visual illusions, we will discuss new insights into how our brains solves visual object occlusion, one of the hallmarks of CAPTCHAs, that still poses intractable problems for machines. For video of Dr. Blake's lecture click here.

October 15, 2014 – Alexander Maier, Ph.D.

Visual Neuroscience: Why Computers are (still) no Match for your Brain Cells

Breakthroughs in computer vision technology are repeatedly on the news as it seems possible now to build self-driving cars and automated face recognition using public surveillance cameras. At the same time, we have gotten used to identify ourselves as humans online by solving simple-seeming visual puzzles at which computers fail (CAPTCHAs). What causes this discrepancy between our visual performance and modern technology? Drawing from recent experiments that measured how single brain cells respond to visual illusions, we will discuss new insights into how our brains solves visual object occlusion, one of the hallmarks of CAPTCHAs, that still poses intractable problems for machines.

October 22, 2014 – Mark Wallace, Ph.D.

Do You See What I Hear? The Merging of the Senses

We live in a world in which we are continually bombarded with information from our different senses, yet we perceive the world in a highly coherent and unified manner. As such, one of the major challenges for the brain is to decide which pieces of information belong together and which should be segregated. The talk will focus on how our behaviors and perceptions are greatly shaped by this process of “multisensory integration,” and will provide insights into how the brain combines information across the senses. 

October 29, 2014 – Kenneth Catania, Ph.D.

Of Mice and Men (and Everything in Between): What Funny Little Beasts Can Teach Us About the Brain

How do animals detect predators and escape?  How in turn have predators evolved to outsmart their prey?  The dynamic between predator and prey is an arms race that has resulted in many remarkable sensory adaptations on each side of the struggle.  I will describe the brains and behaviors of some unusual animals along with their surprising abilities.

November 5, 2014 – Ronald Emeson, Ph.D.

How Can Animal Research Help Us To Understand The Human Brain?

Neuroscientists seeking to gain biological insights into brain mechanisms that support risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been frustrated in recent years by a lack of findings of common genetic changes that produce substantial risk. Emerging evidence suggests that a constellation of genetic risk factors of smaller effects, acting in concert with the environment, lead to these disorders. As each genetic alteration may be of small effect when studied out of context, neuroscientists have turned to studies of rare, but more strongly acting genetic variation that in a few families appears to have stronger effects. Such variation offers the prospect of being more clearly studied in animal models, allowing for the extraction of general properties of brain dysfunction. In my lecture, I will discuss one such opportunity, which involves the introduction into mice of a rare genetic alteration in a serotonin control gene recently identified in ASD subjects. Our studies with the animal model, which show many features associated with ASD, suggest that signaling by serotonin early in development may be a key feature of the disorder, and that animal models can indeed contribute to advancing our understanding of human neuropsychiatric disorders.

November 12, 2014 – Randy Blakely, Ph.D.

Animal Models of Psychiatric Disorders: Opportunities for Insights or a Fool's Paradise?

Neuroscientists seeking to gain biological insights into brain mechanisms that support risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been frustrated in recent years by a lack of findings of common genetic changes that produce substantial risk. Emerging evidence suggests that a constellation of genetic risk factors of smaller effects, acting in concert with the environment, lead to these disorders. As each genetic alteration may be of small effect when studied out of context, neuroscientists have turned to studies of rare, but more strongly acting genetic variation that in a few families appears to have stronger effects. Such variation offers the prospect of being more clearly studied in animal models, allowing for the extraction of general properties of brain dysfunction. In my lecture, I will discuss one such opportunity, which involves the introduction into mice of a rare genetic alteration in a serotonin control gene recently identified in ASD subjects. Our studies with the animal model, which show many features associated with ASD, suggest that signaling by serotonin early in development may be a key feature of the disorder, and that animal models can indeed contribute to advancing our understanding of human neuropsychiatric disorders.