Saturday, November 20, 2010


I officially fail at social media. Told myself I was going to liveblog the bejesus out of this year's Society for Neuroscience conference but of course I chose the road more easy to travel by: a path paved with 140 characters and mobile connectivity. In my defense I was pretty busy during the daytime wandering around the convention center, stalking awesome professors and refueling on Starbucks grande chai lattes. But anyway, so that the nerdtastic excitement and general awesomeness of everything don't wither away in my terrible-excuse-for-LTM storage, I've decided to extrapolate my memories from posts to the twitterverse and hope this compiles a somewhat coherent narration of experiences.

It really was though. Airports are usually such depersonalized spaces: you're surrounded by thousands of people shuffling brusquely along in their own worlds, too worried about their own travel plans and schedule to waste time interacting with others. Understandable. Still, it was nice to look around and be able to connect with these complete strangers without saying a word: I knew why they were here and where they were going. It felt like we were all part of some secret club except instead of a complicated handshake, membership is demonstrated with long, awkwardly shaped luggage (even though technically I didn't have one. Boo. Joined my lab too late to be included in the abstract submission. But hey, I could still appreciate the unspoken bond.)

Touched down on Golden ground and had our spirits instantly lifted. How can you not smile at such a gorgeous state? We took shuttles provided by the conference to our hotel and were welcomed by this view. Immediately made a pact with my roommate to miss our returning flight and become bums on some, any, street corner of this beautiful city. But enough about our plans for umbrella tent shelters- IT'S TIME FOR #CONFERENCEBANTER.

View from our hotel room. Rockstar.
I really wish I could have taken pictures to capture the enormity of this convention. It was just... mindblowing. Humbling, even. Here are 30,000ish people that have come together to learn and share and explore research in a fantastically broad field. I was surrounded by molecular biologists, geneticists, computer scientists, engineers; people who work with worms, rats, clinical populations, controls; studies that utilize  psychopharmacology, neuroimaging, behavioral psych measures... the list goes on. Yet we're all here on the same mission: to understand the brain (or waste our lives away trying). Gets me all warm and tingly.
Poster of the day: "An fMRI Study of Two Brain Interaction Using a Novel Dual-Head MRI Coil System" That's right, you heard (/read) correctly- a dual head coil.  The ability to scan two people's brains simultaneously opens up a new dimension of social neuroscience research. Assuming you have two verrrry small people that are comfortable hanging out in an enclosed space for the duration of the study and you're not particularly interested in the visual cortex- the possibilities are endless!

How about instead of asking me what I'm supposed to do with a handful of eppendorf tubes you ask yourself what CAN'T you do? eh?
Poster of the Day: "Atypical Thalamocortical Connectivity in ADHD Youth" Theoretically, when we're not actively engaged in a particular task, our brain runs on a functionally connected network of brain regions, nominally, the default mode network. Looking at differences in activation between ADHD youth and control youth can help us understand what is going on when people's minds wander. Which, if the way I write is any indication, is something I'm INTENSELY interested in.

No offense to Science, Cell, Interdisciplinary Reviews in Cognitive Science, Nature, Nature Reviews Neuroscience or NIDA brochures. Just saying, you'd be a lot cooler if you were color-in-able.
That is all.

So this reminds me of a good point about social media: not everyone uses this platform to have narcissistic conversations with total strangers about the everyday minutiae of their lives: sometimes Twitter is actually useful. Case in point, if @BrainCatalog hadn't started following my account, the chances of me seeing their booth in the sea of vendors would have slim to none. And that would have been tragic. In a nutshell, they're creating a GoogleEarth-esque application that allows you to browse through mouse brain terrain. The exciting potential of this technology is tangible- can't wait to see where it takes us in the next few years. You can read more in the NYTimes or watch their intro video:

Poster of the day: Uhm, that one. "A Remarkable Increase of Visual and Mental imagery Following Ayahuasca Ingestion: An fMRI study" While I'm still very curious how they're explaining away the fact that an MRI machine overwhelms even the most sober of participants with booming, unsettling sounds and overloading the senses of someone on psychedelics is INFINITELY different than using the same environment with a control subject... this still wins the My Favorite Poster Ever Award (prestigious, I know). They interpreted their results to mean that more activation in areas typically associated with memory, vision and intention shows that using hallucinogenics affects our perception and separation of real life and our internal mental environment. A small step toward exploring reality perception and consciousness but a friggin' LEAP toward making psychedelic research a respected branch of neuroscience.
And it's about time.
(Randall Munroe, you're not helping. Even if we were all thinking it.)

(Almost) last but (certainly) not least:
Check out my lab buddies' sweet posters!
B. KING-CASAS et. al. The neurobiology of diffusion of responsibility in social dilemmas
S. BOUCHER et. al. Affective phenotypes exhibit distinct neural response magnitude and duration to emotional sounds
J. EISEMAN et. al. Neural substrates of interpersonal function in post-traumatic stress disorder
G. CHRISTOPOULOS et. al. Behavioral and neuronal mechanisms underlying reinforcement learning of social stimuli
L. LINDSEY et. al. Neural substrates of drug use, craving, and executive control in cocaine users
K. MCCURRY et. al. Neural correlates of aggression in cocaine dependent individuals
D. TANKERSLEY et. al. Reward and punishment learning associated with differential response to positive and negative prediction errors in stimulant-dependent subjects
** I actually need to go through and fix the links so they redirect to the SFN website, but for now this'll do**

Much love for the CKC Lab :)

Some parting thoughts: In the end, I'm very grateful for having the opportunity to attend this year's conference. It was a learning experience on many different levels and definitely makes me appreciate academia just that much more. Thanks to everyone who came to present their research and share their positive energy with the rest of us. Also, a special 'thank you' goes out to for access to the abstracts and entertaining us with their super creative Lady GABA- Posterface parody.

"When it's cor-ti-cal / If it isn't rough it isn't fun" ...Truth.

See everyone next year!