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04/12/2002 07:00:00

Gaining a Better Understanding of the Brain

PASADENA, Calif. — A panel of experts who conduct a wide range of brain research will come together for California Institute of Technology's annual Biology Forum, "Gray Matters: Perception, Intention, Memory, and Dysfunction in the Brain," April 25 at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave, Pasadena. The event is free and open to the public.

The speakers for the program, which is sponsored by Caltech and Huntington Memorial Hospital and co-sponsored by the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group, will discuss topics as diverse as the dynamics of smell, moving robotic limbs using brain signals, and pinpointing and excising the spot in the brain where epilepsy seizures occur.

"Our speakers exemplify the world-class work that is being done on the brain right here in Pasadena," says Paul Patterson, biology professor and Biology Forum coordinator. Three of the four speakers are Caltech faculty and one is a Huntington Hospital neurosurgeon.

The speakers are:

Richard Andersen, James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience at Caltech. Andersen and his colleagues are beginning to decipher neuron firing patterns in the visuomotor part of the brain preceding arm movement. Using this code they can now predict where the arm will be moved. The eventual goal of this research is to develop a neural prosthesis that records this intended-movement signal from paralyzed patients, enabling them to operate a robot limb or other external devices.

Gilles Laurent, professor of biology and computation and neural systems at Caltech. Laurent studies neural coding in the brain. He focuses on the dynamics of neuronal circuits, brain oscillations, and the sense of smell, in insects, fish, and rodents. His laboratory studies the general problem of olfactory representations: how is an odor represented by brain circuits? What are the neuronal elements of the memory of a smell? What do brain circuits do to optimize those representations?

Adam Mamelak, neurosurgical director of the Epilepsy and Brain Mapping Program at Huntington Memorial Hospital, and associate professor of neurosurgery at City of Hope Cancer Center. The Huntington Brain Mapping Program is one of a handful of comprehensive epilepsy centers in the country. Through the program, patients' seizures and normal brain functions are mapped, the source of seizures is pinpointed, and the damaged portion of the brain is excised. It provides the most advanced and successful seizure evaluation and treatment available today.

Steven Quartz, assistant professor of philosophy at Caltech. Quartz uses experimental and theoretical methods from neuroscience to study traditional problems of mind, ranging from the formal learning properties of neurally constrained developing systems to the nature of moral decision-making.

The moderator of the program will be Robert Lee Hotz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer with the Los Angeles Times.

For more information, call (626) 395-4652 or toll-free 1-888-222-5832. Persons with disabilities can call (626) 395-4688 (voice) or (626) 395-3700 (TDD) weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

CONTACT: Jill Perry, Media Relations Director (626) 395-3226

Visit the Caltech media relations web site:

Written by Jill Perry