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Terrence J. Sejnowski, PhD
What Makes the Human Brain Human
Francis Crick Chair, Professor, and Head of Computational Neurobiology; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator; The Salk Institute; La Jolla, California; Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences; Member, NAS Institute of Medicine
2 Riverside Circle, Roanoke, VA 24016
Dr. Sejnowski will discuss the progress that has been made in elucidating the structure, function, and connectivity of cellular circuits in the nervous system and how such large-scale information is revolutionizing our capacity to understand brain function and behavior. However, even the vast amounts of data being collected—including connectomics—will be far from sufficient for a deep understanding of the human brain, which contains an estimated 86 billion neurons.
Even though the complete structure of the much “simpler” 302-neuron network of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans was published in the 1980s, without information on the activities of the neurons and all of their synaptic interactions, it was only an incomplete “wiring diagram.” With modern tools to explore and analyze neuronal network function, understanding of the worm nervous system is now almost within reach. Yet the human brain poses even more daunting challenges for achieving a similar level of understanding.
Dr. Sejnowski will discuss those challenges for interpreting patterns of activity in large-scale living networks of neurons as well as computational modeling approaches. He will consider how these approaches are changing the way we think about ourselves, asking such questions as: Has neuroeconomics replaced the rational-agent model of human behavior? How are disciplines such as education and ethics influenced by modern neuroscience? And how do we address the challenge of individual human brain functional differences?
A public reception will precede this event in the VTC Café at 5:00 p.m.
About the Speaker:
Terrence J. Sejnowski, PhD, is the Francis Crick Chair, professor, and head of computational neurobiology at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. He also holds the title of Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
In his laboratory, Dr. Sejnowski's team uses sophisticated electrical and chemical monitoring techniques to measure changes that occur in the connections among nerve cells in the hippocampus during a simple form of learning. His laboratory uses the results of these studies to instruct large-scale computers to mimic how these nerve cells work. By studying how the resulting computer simulations can perform operations that resemble the activities of the hippocampus, Dr. Sejnowski hopes to gain new knowledge of how the human brain is capable of learning and storing memories. This knowledge ultimately may provide medical specialists with critical clues to combating Alzheimer's disease and other disorders that rob people of the critical ability to remember faces, names, places, and events.
Dr. Sejnowski earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Case Western Reserve University and a doctorate in physics from Princeton University. He also completed postdoctoral fellowships in biology at Princeton University and in neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.