The Brain and Mind
Mriganka Sur, Newton Professor in Neuroscience; Head, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Description: In his kickoff lecture for this series on neuroscience, Sur provides both a current overview of brain models and function, and a peek at his own research. From the moment of conception, a developing animal begins to grow cortical pathways and networks that will eventually allow it to respond to the world outside. These increasingly sophisticated networks for hearing, vision, touch provide feedback to the evolving brain. For humans, at least half the brain is devoted directly or indirectly to processing vision, says Sur. Yet there is a single model for understanding how vision works: orientation selectivity. Regions of neural cells react only to specific stimuli, such as vertical or horizontal stripes, obliques or diagonals. Images of these activated cell networks from Sur's lab resemble pinwheels. In Sur's research on newborn ferrets, he rewired visual inputs to the animals' hearing center, and found the same patterned responses to specific shapes among cells more pinwheels. In essence, Sur enabled ferrets to "see" through their hearing cortex. This dramatic experiment demonstrates the plasticity of brain networks, and suggests there might be ways to repair human brains after stroke or other traumas.
About the Speaker(s): Mriganka Sur has received numerous awards and honors, including the Charles Judson Herrick Award from the American Association of Anatomists (1983), the A.P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (1985), the McKnight Neuroscience Development Award (1988), the MIT Graduate Student Council Teaching Award (1989), and the School of Science Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching (2000). Sur graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in 1974 with a Bachelor of Technology degree. He received an M.S. (1975) and Ph.D. (1978) from Vanderbilt University. After doing postdoctoral research at SUNY Stony Brook and a faculty appointment at Yale University School of Medicine, Sur joined the faculty of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 1986. He was named full Professor in 1993, associate department head in 1994, and head in 1997.
Host(s): School of Science, School of Science
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