Abstracts for Lecture #18 ‘Science!’

LASERS.

Also, Zombie Rats and the Resurrection Protocol.

Dr. David G.S. Farmer The Howard Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health Melbourne, Australia

In the context of pub conversation, neuroscientists enjoy a larger-than-average implication of prestige associated with their occupation. However, the primary difficulties faced by the neuroscientist on a day-to-day basis are not intellectual but practical and experimental. They, as much of the remainder of humanity, may enjoy wrangling with issues such as how networks of cells give rise to laughter, memory or consciousness. However, our practical knowledge of how brain networks are constructed fails at a fairly fundamental level. The neuroscientist spends the vast majority of his or her time trying to overcome a prohibitive practical barrier to experimentation and to our understanding of the brain: namely, that neurons are small, numerous, close together and extremely squishy. This makes testing ideas about their organisation difficult. As a result, and despite the fact that neuroscientists with a computational focus create models of unfathomably complex events (e.g. a thought process; a memory), the mechanisms by which networks of cells actually give rise to even the most evolutionarily ancient processes (notably breathing) remain unknown. It is upon this level that the study of our laboratory is focussed. With the assistance of modern tools including optogenetics (Lasers) and ‘the perfused, working-heart and brainstem preparation’ (Zombie Rats) we are attempting to answer to overcome very old practical problems in order to answer some very basic questions. We do this, not because we find laughter, memory and consciousness uninteresting, but because we believe that in studying ancient and life-essential brain circuits we will be able to learn something fundamental about the manner in which neurons are organised.

Narratives in Science

Carmel Wallis 

Science is always right, except for when it’s not. We like to think of science as occurring in a vacuum, or at least as being able to resist the sometimes sexist, racist, or other -ist elements that our society contains. When that can’t happen, however, the results are twice as dangerous, because they not only reinforce those problematic views, but additionally have the weight and authority of “SCIENCE” behind them. Come listen to stories of sexism and sperm that try to illustrate that most of what we think we know is usually just a little bit wrong.

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