Neuroscientists pick public’s brain at Brainstorms speaker series

Aditya Singh

Last Friday, neuroscientists gathered at UT to discuss and update the public on the state of brain research at a speaker series called Brainstorms. This month’s topic was Dr. Audrey Brumback’s work on the science behind autism.

Dr. Michael Mauk, chair of the UT neuroscience department and speaker at the first Brainstorms section, said that these talks aim to engage the UT and Austin communities. He added that these researchers share their expertise and passion for neuroscience in return for inspiration and personal stories from the general public. 

“Neuroscience at its essence is the science of ourselves,” Mauk said. “Nonscientists don’t have to appreciate the complex details to be interested in what neuroscience means to our lives and our mental health.”

Brumback, an associate professor at Dell Medical School and an expert in autism led this Friday’s session. She specializes in the neurodevelopment, or growth, of the brain, which is a topic at the heart of neuroscience and its clinical potential.

“We as scientists want to do a good job of communicating all of the exciting things that we are discovering to the people of the country, to people who spend their time doing other things,” Brumback said. 

Most people are very intrigued by the brain, she added.

“Since so (much) is still not known about it, neuroscience feels very similar to the intrigue of a science-fiction movie,” Brumback said.

Brainstorms serves as a way for neuroscientists to contribute to that excitement of unexplored science, but also to further people’s understanding of how the brain works, according to Brumback.

Another issue in today’s Google age, Brumback said, is that the internet gives people so much information that it is very easy to get lost.

“To talk to someone who spends their whole life thinking about … all the (neuroscience) research and knowledge that is out here can help a person outside that field zoom in on the actual information they want to know about,” Brumback said.

Dr. Zoltan Nadasdy, adjunct neuroscience professor, also said conversations such as Brainstorms are important in the era of the internet.  

“The brain is the next frontier,” Nadasdy said. “As the devices we carry in our pocket are increasingly emulating human intelligence, we are become increasingly dependent on them. It is paramount to understand the danger and power that we are unleashing.”

Brumback said the importance of these talks also benefits the neuroscientists, because communicating their research betters the understanding of the topics themselves, in turn. 

“I really believe there are no dumb questions,” Brumback said. “The questions that people ask, who have not been steeped in the dogma of a field — (those are) the fundamental questions.”