Lauren Rubenstein

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Kurtz Co-Edits Book on Schizophrenia

Matthew Kurtz

Matthew Kurtz, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-editor of a new book, Clinical Neuropsychological Foundations of SchizophreniaThe book, co-edited by Bernice Marcopulos, was published on July 11 by Psychology Press.

A resource for practicing neuropsychologists, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and neuropsychiatrists, as well as students of these disciplines, the volume provides knowledge and tools for providing professional neuropsychological services to patients with schizophrenia. It offers an overview of developmental models of schizophrenia and associated neuropathologies, and covers contemporary evidence-based assessments and interventions, including cognitive remediation and other cognitive-oriented interventions.

Birds, babies learn how to vocalize in similar ways

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of neuroscience & behavior, recently spoke to McClatchy Newspapers about a new finding in his field of expertise–the neuroscience behind song learning and production in birds. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, found that birds use the left side of their brain for perceiving and producing song, just as humans do for speech.

“Showing left side dominance for auditory memories, which is very similar in humans, is novel,” said Kirn, who was not part of this study. However, “within songbirds the whole idea of left side dominance is not ironclad, even within the same species.”

 

When Banks Are Too Big to Behave

In the wake of the LIBOR banking scandal, Professor of Economics Richard Grossman recently spoke to the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s about banking regulation throughout history. “It’s guaranteed to be a losing battle,” he says. “The incentives in banking are so strong and the money is so big. As soon as you close off one area, someone is going to think of a new way to do things.” He adds that governments and the public have a short memory when it comes to financial crises, so that regulations that seem prudent in one era become the next generation’s “political red tape.”

5 Questions With . . . John Kirn on Songbird Neuroscience

John Kirn

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, in May published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience on neurogenesis in songbirds. He recently spoke about his research on WNPR public radio and in The Hartford Courant

Q: Professor Kirn, you study the neuroscience behind song learning and production in zebra finches. Please tell us about your research, and the surprising findings to come out of your most recent work.

A: I’m interested in the normal functions of adult neurogenesis—the continual addition and replacement of neurons. This happens to a limited extent in humans but is very widespread in the brains of birds. It is a widely held view that this process helps us learn, because young neurons might be more malleable than older ones. In some songbirds, like the canary, the highest numbers of new neurons are added annually when birds are learning new song. But neurons are also added when song does not change.

In the zebra finch too, neuron addition is highest when they are juveniles, learning their song. But song learning is over by adulthood and yet new neurons are still added. Why? We think that neurogenesis may also function to preserve pre-existing knowledge. Our most recent work, though still only correlational, supports this notion. If you deafen an adult zebra finch, song structure breaks down, as is also true with human speech. We recently showed that birds that preserved their songs the longest after deafening also had the highest number of neurons added to a brain region that appears to be critical for the maintenance of song structure.

Q: What are the implications of these findings?

A: They might indicate that adult neurogenesis serves more than one purpose. Depending on the brain region and type of cell produced, perhaps in some cases it promotes the acquisition of new information, while in other cases, it promotes stability of older information.

Ospina is an Expert on War and Memory in Contemporary Latin American Culture

Maria Ospina, assistant professor of romance languages and literatures, studies Columbian literature; film and cultural production; violence, history and cultural memory in contemporary Latin America; political economies of drug trafficking; and Latin American film. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Assistant Professor Maria Ospina, who recently completed her first year in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department at Wesleyan, can trace her academic interests directly back to her childhood in Colombia and her longtime interest in history.

“My interests in violence, memory and culture stem in part from my own experiences growing up in Colombia during the 1980s and 90s, in a very complex region that has been marked by armed conflict, the hemispheric War on Drugs and different waves of migration. The combination of political turmoil and a vibrant cultural production that actively reflected on the histories of violence and crisis in the region fostered my interest in the relationship between aesthetics, politics and historiography,” she explains. “Realizing that it is in Latin American literature, art, fiction and performance where the most productive social and political reflections about the region have and are taking place led me to want to study it in depth.”

Ospina left Colombia when she was 18 to attend Brown University, where she studied history and cultural studies. After working in New York for a few years, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Hispanic Literatures from Harvard University. During her time at Harvard, she traveled frequently between the U.S. and Colombia in order to coordinate and curate the Cartas de la Persistencia (Letter of Persistence) project. Ospina describes the project as “an important public trans-disciplinary project and archive funded by one of the country’s major cultural institutions. This amazing archive of thousands of recent testimonies about civil resistance to violence led us, among several public initiatives, to publish an anthology, which I edited in 2008.” After earning her Ph.D., Ospina went on to hold a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard, where she taught several courses on contemporary Latin American culture.

Teaching at Wesleyan appealed to Ospina because, “I was looking for a liberal arts institution where teaching and research share equal importance—a place that values and fosters reflections about the intersections between arts and politics. Also, I was drawn by the collegial and collaborative spirit of the faculty here, and was particularly interested in the strength of Wesleyan’s arts, film and humanities programs.”

During her first year at Wesleyan, Ospina taught “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures,” the gateway class to the Romance Languages and Literatures major.

“It’s a wonderful course, which prepares students to delve deeper into the culture of Spanish speaking countries and to get really excited about further studying the area,” she says. She also taught a course called “Narratives of Crisis: Violence and Representation in Contemporary Latin American Culture,” which, she says, “explored the intersections between symbolic practice (film, testimony and literature) and histories of violence and crisis in contemporary Latin America and looked at the ways in which cultural texts operate vis-à-vis contemporary dynamics like drug trafficking and armed conflict.”

In the spring, Ospina taught a course called “Minor Tales: Narratives of Youth and Childhood in Latin America,” which focused on Latin American literature and film about childhood and youth in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ospina says she has found her students to be “creative, interested, and excited about politics in the broadest sense of the word. I feel extremely lucky to teach a very diverse group of students.”

Next year, she looks forward to teaching the “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures” course again during both semesters, as well as a course called “Dangerous Plots: Fictions of the Latin American Jungle.” This class will explore the ways in which nature has been plotted in fiction, films and popular culture, focusing specifically on the tropical jungle as a space that has been central to the way Latin America has been imagined for centuries. In the spring, she will teach “Spanish American Literature and Civilization,” which studies some of the major writers and intellectuals in Latin America from the colonial period to the present.

Ospina also had a very productive year in research. She recently finished an article about representations of Amazonia in the context of the War on Drugs, which will be published in Chile in the fall as part of a volume on virtual geographies of Latin America. She also presented work on memory and armed conflict in recent Colombian film at a conference in Lisbon focusing on post-conflict cinema, and attended the Cartagena International Film Festival.

Here at Wesleyan, Ospina is involved in organizing a mini film festival of recent acclaimed Spanish and Latin American film, which will take place at the Wesleyan Film Center in September. “Everyone is invited!” she says.

Outside of work, Ospina enjoys writing fiction, biking, dancing, and spending time in New York City. In addition, she says, “Recently, I’ve also taken up vegetable gardening, because I want to grow some of the food I eat. I grew up in a family of farmers and gardeners in Colombia, but I’ve never had the chance to plant a garden in the Northern Hemisphere—that is, in a place with seasons. It’s been fun, but I’m in a strenuous fight with the local ant population.” Of late, Ospina also has taken an interest in studying birds, particularly migratory species.

Kirn’s Songbird Neuroscience Research Featured on WNPR, in Hartford Courant

John Kirn

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, was interviewed on WNPR public radio on June 25 about his research on neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, in the brains of zebra finches.

“The birds that had managed to preserve their songs the longest had the most new neurons, which was completely counter to our prediction. It suggests that maybe, at least in some cases and in some brain regions, new neurons are being added in order to preserve what’s already been learned,” Kirn said in the interview, describing the findings of his latest research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in May.

Kirn’s research was also highlighted in a feature story in The Hartford Courant. According to the article:

Birds can create new brain cells through most of their brains, while the creation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, can occur in only a few regions of a mammal’s brain. Better understanding of how neurogenesis happens in birds’ brains, Kirn said, could lead to medical breakthroughs for humans.

“If we can understand how they manage to do this on the molecular level, it might give us some insights that we can use,” [Kirn] said, adding that stem therapy is one area that could benefit. “There’s something special about the bird brain that might be important in how we can create therapies for human brain damage,” he said.

Craighead Publishes Op-ed on Confronting the “Fiscal Cliff”

Bill Craighead

In an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant on June 24, Bill Craighead, assistant professor of economics, proposes a policy solution to avoid economic disaster as the U.S. confronts the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of 2013. As Craighead explains in the piece, the cliff refers to the simultaneous expiration of Bush-era income tax cuts and Social Security payroll tax cuts, as well as automatic cuts in government spending mandated following last year’s debt ceiling stand-off.

Craighead proposes that, “The tax increases could be made to occur at a more appropriate time by instituting triggering criteria that would delay them until the state of the economy has improved and then phase them in. For example, the tax changes could be set to begin once the unemployment rate has fallen to a more reasonable level, like 5.5 percent, and remained there for six months. At that point, the increases could occur in three or four steps, with each one occurring as long as the unemployment rate has remained below a specified level for six months.”

He concludes, “By sparing the economy a big blow next year, while putting government debt on a reasonable long-run path, [this plan] would buy some time to work out bigger issues after the next election.”

Helping to Heal with Songbirds

In a recent interview on WNPR public radio and a feature story in The Hartford Courant, John Kirn, professor of biology, professor & chair of neuroscience & behavior, discussed his research into the neuroscience behind song learning and production in zebra finches. His latest study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, revealed surprising evidence that neurogenesis–or the formation of new neurons in the brain–may help zebra finches to retain existing knowledge as well as learn new information.


Craighead Proposes Policy to Ease Fiscal Cliff Impact

In an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant, Assistant Professor of Economics Bill Craighead proposes a policy solution to avoid economic disaster as the U.S. confronts the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of 2013. He advises “delaying the tax increases scheduled at the beginning of next year until the unemployment rate falls to a more acceptable level,” and then gradually phasing them in.

Grabel Co-recipient of State Grant

According to the Hartford CourantLaura Grabel, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, was among this year’s recipients of stem cell grants from the State of Connecticut announced by Governor Dannel P. Malloy this week. Grabel received $500,000 in funding for the stem cell outreach program she runs together with a University of Connecticut professor. Since 2006, the program has held workshops and retreats for stem cell researchers, and has educated the general public by sending speakers to schools and various organizations.

Dupuy Comments on Development in Haiti

For an article on economic development in Haiti, The Miami Herald turned to Alex Dupuy, John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, chair of the African American Studies Program. “Very few of the dollars that are invested in Haiti in these assembly industries are going to remain in Haiti,” Dupuy tells the Herald. “And since the assembly industry is the only game in town, and there is nothing else being planned around it to grow the economy, it’s not going to have any long-lasting effect on the growth of the economy.”