This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Nobel Prize winner and URSI Symposium keynote speaker Eric Kandel joins Vassar's 2011 student research fellows for lunch. Photo © Vassar College / John Abbott.

Nobel Laureate Addresses URSI Symposium

On October 1, members of the Vassar community gathered for the annual Undergraduate Research Summer Institute Symposium, which this year included celebration of URSI's 25th anniversary.

During the intensive 10-week program this past summer, some 60 students tackled 40 research projects across 11 areas of study. After introductory remarks from dean of the faculty Jon Chenette and URSI director and chemistry professor Joe Tanski ’95, three student URSI fellows and their project advisors shared their experiences from the summer.

Sara Gabrielson ’12 and Keri VanCamp, manager of Vassar's Field Station and Ecological Preserve, discussed how the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect species, would likely affect the forest ecology of the Vassar Ecological Preserve.

Jared Saunders ’13 and chemistry professor Zachary Donhauser shared the results of their research with the tau protein, which is important to the central nervous system and plays a role in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Finally, Anne Hill ’12 and psychology professor Abby Baird ’91 talked about the neurodevelopmental importance of teens “hanging out.” (For more on professor Baird’s research with the teen brain, don’t miss the feature article, “Growing Pains,” in the forthcoming Fall 2011 issue of the Vassar Quarterly.)

A highlight of the evening for many was the keynote address, delivered by 2000 Nobel Prize recipient and Columbia University professor and neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel. Kandel is also the director of Columbia's Kavli Institute for Brain Science and a senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A graduate of Harvard University and the NYU School of Medicine, he trained in neurobiology at the National Institutes of Health and in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is also the founding director of Columbia's Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. His recent book In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind won both Los Angeles Times and U.S. National Academy of Science awards for best book in science and technology. Kandel and two fellow researchers were jointly awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on the physiological basis of memory storage.

His continued work in that field framed his keynote address at the URSI Symposium. In “We Are What We Remember: Memory and the Biological Basis of Individuality,” Kandel considered how neural systems and molecular mechanisms in the human brain contribute to learning and long-term memory. He showed how different memory systems in the human brain have been identified and shown to be involved in simple and complex forms of memory storage, and discussed recent developments in memory storage research involving marine mollusks and mice. Finally, Kandel tied these insights into researchers’ evolving understanding of various forms of age-related memory loss. –Peter Bronski

November 2011

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