Accidentally in Love

So yesterday morning I actually woke up on time which made my whole day 100 times better. My shoe fell apart that morning:

So I figured it would be a good idea to go out and buy shoes after our lectures. First, we heard from Dr. Nicole Rust, who does research on the visuoperceptive system.

The neural mechanisms involved in finding specific objects and switching between targets
Nicole Rust
Dr. Rust hypothesized that in the brain, searching for an object and finding it had a very specific cognitive profile. She believed that there were specific neurons that fired for specific objects, and that working memory kept firing the same neurons to maintain the signal for an object for which one might look. The point of her research so far has been to figure out neural correlates instead of doing causal experiments (like with transmagnetic stimulation), but that will be the next step when she figures out the basics of this complicated process. There are three levels of cognitive processing she recognizes… except I can’t remember the first one. The second is algorithm (how the brain picks out information) and the third is behavioral response. She is interested in figuring out the algorithms by which the brain picks out information. 
Her hypothesis is that there must be some form of ‘bingo’ neuron which fires when something you’re looking for, no matter what the object is, as opposed to neurons that fire when you recognize an object you’re not looking for. Well, she found some. They’re in the inferior temporal lobe as well as the pherirhinal cortex. The required information is fed from the prefrontal cortex (working memory) for which object needs to be recognized, and this affects the visual information fed into the IT, which computationally formats the data into a linearly selectable matrix that the perirhinal cortex can read. Essentially, this means that a complicated process is used to separate distractor data vs. bingo match data in the IT, and the formats it in a way that is easily interpretable by another part of the brain. So yeah. This field is really young so we don’t have the greatest understanding of it yet. 
Cracking the Code: Translating odorants into olfactory receptor responses
Joel Mainland 
This was cool but not really informative. Molecules all smell different according to features we don’t understand. Enantiomers (molecules that look exactly the same but are mirror images of each other, like your left and right hand) smell different from each other, molecules which are very similar in structure with respect to functional groups are very similar, etc. There are two theories of how we smell things. First, we might use a lock and key system in which different molecules fit into different olfaction neurons which send information to the brain. The other is that there is some mechanism on those neurons that records their vibrations and uses that information to tell what molecule it is. It’s possible that it’s a mixture of both of these theories, or neither. However, there isn’t really any evidence for the vibration theory, though it may be plausible. The lock and key model is used in many other biological processes already, so it is more likely that that is the case.
Fun fact. We have about 40 types of taste receptors on our tongues, 3 types of color receptors (RGY), and 400 different olfactory nerve endings. Crazy!
We got to smell about 800 vials of stuff to see just how different things smelled even if their molecular structure was very similar. 
After our lectures I needed shoes desperately. But I also only had one hour until I had to be back at IRCS for a graduate student panel thing. So, I started power walking into town, naturally. The music that came on my iPod first was “Accidentally in Love” by the Counting Crows, which about describes my feelings about Philadelphia. It was terrifying for the first few days, but I’m really beginning to like it here. The people are nice, the weather is awesome, there’s a beach 40 minutes away, a downtown gayborhood, a prestigious university, and no Wal-Mart. Well… I think there’s a Wal-Mart, it’s just not readily accessible at the moment. Also, public transportation makes my life so much easier. 

I power walked across the river and into the city, about 20 blocks to the nearest Payless Shoe Source, ran in, bought a pair of shoes that were my size, and immediately ran out, changed shoes, and started jogging back to campus. I got in exactly on time but I was exhausted and covered in sweat so I imagine everyone thought I was pretty classy. There was a graduate student panel where we all got to ask graduate students from different fields everything we wanted to know about graduate school. Apparently, stats is way more important than I thought it was. Bleh. Also, I’m going to have to study a lot of programming and linear algebra, take time off in between undergrad and grad school, write a senior thesis, and drop whatever I’m doing during that time if I don’t immediately like it.

Then there was food!

 Then there were posters! A lot of the students here have some some cool research and they got to share it with the rest of us. This is Tatiana. She’s from Russia, and she’s awesome. Also, her research essentially went over my head. There was one experiment another girl did that was pretty cool, in which she looked at the phoneme inventories of languages to see if the presence of certain vowels could predict with any accuracy the the presence of specific consonant sounds. No correlations yet, though. 

Next we went to Center City to see an interactive concert. The orchestra played Beethoven’s 5th (1st and 3rd movements). After each movement, they had a few people come up one at a time to learn conducting and let them loose on the orchestra. One guy, after finishing, turned around to the audience and said, “Thank you all, this has been a dream come true. It’s always been my dream to conduct an orchestra; when I was a kid, I would stand on top of a box with a pencil in hand and conduct to the music I played, so thank you all very much.” He had a really strong English accent but he said he was from Poland. I saw someone’s dream come true!

 After the concert, some of us headed farther down town to see the block party (it’s an opening party for the Pride parade on Sunday). There were some games and a lot of dads were there with their kids playing foam sword fights and stuff. It was really cute and at least for me, unexpected. You always hear about gay dads but you never see them. Er… I don’t, anyway. But I live in Missouri where you’d become a martyr instantly in that situation.

There were tons of people there. About twenty minutes after we arrived, the population of block partiers probably increased by a factor of 100. 

Then I went line dancing at a local bar. 

Then I met up with some friends to do more dancing!

Then we saw a drag show with pole dancers. 

Then we all found a bus and took it home and became the best of friends. The end.

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