Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New Society for Neuroscience President-Elect: "Hey, I know that guy"

Well, sort of.

He's Dr. Thomas Carew, chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California-Irvine. I met him during an interview with the program last February. Dr. Carew was formerly the chair of the psychology department at Yale and even more formerly the student of esteemed neuroscientist (and Nobel Prize winner) Eric Kandel. Dr. Carew flew in the face of the stodgy academic stereotype. During our brief meeting, we barely breached the topic of my research background, instead, Carew talked lovingly about Southern California, and surfing.

Kandel (and subsequently, Carew) became famous in the scientific community for his research on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of memory in the sea slug Aplysia. This work has greatly expanded our understanding of habituation, sensitization, and conditioning forms of learning.

This kind of research really got me interested in neurobiology. Particularly with Aplysia, complex learning behaviors can be distilled down to the interaction of several molecules across synapses. To think that the cellular mechanisms of long-term memory consolidation in a sea slug are more or less conserved in humans is astounding. For me, it lead to a sort of "ah ha!" moment that motivated my graduate school focus.

Even though I ended up in a different program doing different research, I still think my meeting with Dr. Carew ( and understanding of his work) was important. We all have people we aspire to imitate, whether in career accolades or otherwise. So remember that favorite author, artist, or actor, and draw inspiration where you can.

Anyway, here is a cool picture of a sea slug:

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