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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 20, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 18
Symposium to Gather JH Biologists

Allen Shearn, Biology Department chair; Ru Chih, who will coordinate future events; and Doug Fambrough, organizer of this week's neuroscience symposium.

Homewood's inaugural event will focus on neuroscience

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Scientists tend to live a blinkered, insular existence, fixedly caught in the details of their research, says Johns Hopkins biologist Allen Shearn. Shearn knows; for nearly 32 years he's plugged away in his laboratory focused on his work, relatively unaware of the work of the person next door.

Now wearing the hat of Biology Department chair, however, Shearn understands it may not be a bad thing to peek figuratively into a colleague's lab from time to time.

In an effort to foster a more collegial, information-sharing atmosphere among Johns Hopkins faculty in the biological sciences, the Krieger School's Department of Biology will host this week what it envisions as an annual symposium to spotlight an area of research of interest to the community. The event will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at Homewood's Mudd Hall Auditorium.

The featured topic for the inaugural symposium will be the neurosciences, and five JHU faculty in the biological sciences will give short presentations on their current work.

Shearn said that when he became chair last July, he quickly realized the need for greater synergy among faculty.

"One of those things that always struck me about Johns Hopkins is all these people doing interrelated research who don't necessarily talk to each other, which I know is due in part to the fact that they're so busy doing their own research," Shearn said. "It occurred to me that we should take a little time to exchange views on things that I know people have a common interest in, and that an informal symposium held during the intersession would be a good mechanism for expressing these views."

The symposium will feature five roughly half-hour talks by selected faculty who will present an overview of their work and attempt to relate it to work being conducted by colleagues.

The event seeks to draw faculty and students primarily from the Homewood biology-related departments, including Biophysics, Chemistry, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Cognitive Sciences, the Mind/ Brain Institute, Biomedical Engineering and the Embryology Department of the nearby Carnegie Institution of Washington, whose scientists hold joint appointments in the Department of Biology. The entire Johns Hopkins community, however, is welcome, and Shearn said he anticipates nearly 200 people attending.

This first year's group of talks will cover neuroscience from the molecular level up to human language (see below).

Douglas Fambrough, a professor of biology, will start off the symposium with a short introduction called "Our Neuroscience Community." Fambrough, who chairs the symposium and selected the speakers, said neuroscience was chosen to kick off the series in part because of the aggressive stance the university has recently taken to secure new hires in this field.

"Right now, neuroscience is a major area of discovery," Fambrough said. "It is one of the most exciting areas intellectually, period, and if Hopkins wants to be a first-rate place in the next century, this is where the biggest action is. We're talking about how the brain works, how humans arise from genes and culture, and how this all comes together to make people."

Fambrough added that he looked for speakers who were "outstanding" in their science and could effectively share the vision of their work.

Shearn said that the symposium is planned to become an annual event with a different general topic each year. Professor Ru Chih Huang will serve as the coordinator of future events. Areas of focus, Shearn said, could be biophysics or the interface between biology and engineering.

"We see this as a chance for faculty to communicate their work to an interested audience and to meet face to face with those who are working in different departments but who work in related areas," he said. "My main goal is to improve communications between all those working in the biological sciences at Homewood."

In this symposium, for example, one speaker will talk about the development of the nervous system, and another will address her work with lab animals and neural systems that serve a role in memory and attention.

"There is clearly a relationship between the abilities that animals have to learn and the development of the human nervous system," Shearn said. "These are the sort of relationships we hope people will find interesting."


Inaugural Homewood biology symposium 'Symposium on Neurosciences'

When: 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 21

Where: Mudd Hall Auditorium

Speakers and Topics

Doug Fambrough, professor, KSAS Department of Biology
"Introduction: Our Neurosciences Community"

Haiqing Zhao, assistant professor, KSAS Department of Biology
"How Does the Nose Know? Activation, Deactivation and Adaptation in Olfactory Sensory Neurons"

Marnie Halpern, staff, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Embryology
"Genetic Approaches to Study Brain Asymmetry"

Michela Gallagher, chair, KSAS Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
"Biology of the Aging Mind"

Ed Connor, assistant professor of neuroscience, Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute "Understanding Perception as Information Processing"

Brenda Rapp, professor, KSAS Department of Cognitive Sciences
"Cognitive Science Approaches to Neuroscience: The Cognitive and Neural Substrates of Written Language"


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