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Nerd Nite #68 - The Brain "Wants" What The Brain Wants

Tue, 08/18/2020 - 8:37am

Over the course of evolution our brains have become excellent at detecting rewards (e.g. food or a potential mate) in our environment and in turn generating motivation to obtain that reward. While this system was originally necessary for survival, it can easily become maladaptive in a world where access to rewards (such as high-calorie food, drugs and alcohol, gambling) are present in abundance. Unfortunately, this reward detection system can become hypersentitive in some individuals, in turn causing excessive desire and craving each time they come across a reward cue in their world. This talk addresses how and why this reward system can become dysregulated in some individuals. Answering these questions will help scientists discover new treatment options for individuals living with addiction or psychiatric disorder. 

About Erin Naffziger:

Erin is a PhD Candidate in Biopsychology at the University of Michigan studying how the brain creates the psychological processes: desire and craving. She wants to know how motivation is generated in the brain and how it may become dysregulated in mental illnesses. When she’s not playing with rats or using lasers to activate the brain, she enjoys true crime podcasts and hanging out with her elderly cat.

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Exploring the Mind | 7 Ways Children's Storytelling Skills Impact Literacy Development

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 8:39am

Join Assistant Professor Nicole Gardner-Neblett of the University of Michigan for her presentation on the importance of storytelling in the development of literacy skills, and learn some strategies for supporting young children as storytellers.

Did you know that by the time a child is two or three years old they can tell a simple story? These early storytelling skills can help children develop a strong foundation for building later reading and writing skills. Research suggests that opportunities to practice telling stories helps children develop stronger language skills and a better understanding of how stories are structured. This presentation reviews seven ways that young children's storytelling skills can impact their literacy development. 

Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist whose work focuses on the individual and contextual factors that promote children’s language and literacy development. She adopts a strengths-based approach to understanding children’s development and identifying effective practices to transform the early learning experiences of young children. In particular, Dr. Gardner-Neblett’s work examines the oral narrative, or storytelling, skills of African American children and the implications for literacy development and educational practice.

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Genetic Genealogy: Discrepancies in Your Family Tree

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:31am

Using actual case studies, learn how you can use your DNA test results to detect and solve potential discrepancies in your family tree, such as mis-attributed parentage. The case studies illustrate the use of autosomal DNA, Y DNA and X DNA test results to support or refute your family tree.

Mary Henderson has 45 years of experience with traditional, document-based genealogy, and 6 years of experience with genetic genealogy.  She volunteers her services to adoptees seeking their birth parents and is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

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Nerd Nite #67 - Let's Talk About Stress, Baby!

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 1:39pm

This A2 Nerd Nite talk features U-M PhD candidate in biopsychology Sofia Carrera explaining how neurotransmitters affect our behavior and feelings. 

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Nerd Nite #66 - Hidden Planets

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 8:53am

Could there be a planet lurking at the edge of our Solar System that we haven’t discovered yet? Maybe! It’s happened before. In this talk, Larissa Markwardt explains how the orbits of objects we already know about in our Solar System can be used to infer the existence of yet unseen planets. Larissa also discusses the history and science of the discoveries of Neptune and Pluto, searches for other hypothetical planets (Planet X and Vulcan), and the current hunt for Planet 9. 

About Larissa: 

Larissa is a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Astrophysics and NSF graduate research fellow at the University of Michigan. She studies tiny, faint, and distant space rocks in our Solar System, specifically Earth Trojans and Kuiper Belt Objects. In her free time she likes to go hiking and kayaking, play board games, and watch Stargate. Find her on Twitter @LarMarStar.

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Nerd Nite #66 - Making the Impossible Possible: Lessons from Apollo

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 8:31am

In 1962 under President Kennedy’s direction, our nation committed itself to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” At the time, this goal was physically impossible. In order to accomplish this goal, it had to be broken down into component tasks. Accomplishing these tasks determined the mission objectives of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Samuel Carpenter discusses not only the accomplishments these early space exploration efforts, but also outlines a general process of how to take on impossible goals. You will be able to apply this process in your own lives in order to achieve your ‘impossible’, whatever that happens to be. 

About Samuel:

Samuel is a Pennsylvania native who recently relocated to Ann Arbor from Portland, OR. Throughout a career in academic research and volunteering as a prehospital medical provider, he has maintained an avid interest in space exploration history as well as current progress of existing space programs. Find him on Twitter @carpensa1.

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Nerd Nite #49 - Let Them (fruit flies) Eat Cake

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 8:09am

Fruit flies’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs (no, really, they are), but this is not why they love sugar. In our lab we feed cake to fruit flies to see what happens to their brains (#badlyexplainyourjob), and boy, a lot happens, and most of it is NOT good. Maybe this is why we all love sugar and can’t stop eating it. And if you are one of those weird people who doesn’t maybe stop by the lab so we can study you?

About Monica: I received my first microscope at age 7, a gift from my dad, and had an idyllic childhood in Italy pulling hair off Barbie’s and legs off bugs and looking at them under the microscope. What really kept me in science, however, was the pervasive beauty of the natural world. I still remember the first time, as a high school student, I heard about molecular biology: I was amazed by its beautiful complexity. Nearly twenty years later, I still haven’t found something that is man-made and more beautiful than the natural world, not even a Dolce and Gabbana dress. At 18 I left Italy for the USA, majored in Biology and Philosophy, got a Ph. D in biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and in 2015 started a lab at the University of Michigan where I also teach genetics and neuroepigenetics. My favorite things in life are dogs, desserts, philosophy and post-modern literature, pastel colors, fuzzy things, and unicorns.

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Nerd Nite #65 - A Tale of Two Lakes: Eutrophy in Western Lake Erie and Oligotrophy in Lake Michigan

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 4:24pm

In Western Lake Erie, massive mats of blue-green algae blossom every summer, stirring up memories of the 2014 Toledo Water Crisis with every reappearance. Meanwhile, in Lake Michigan, there are nearly as many invasive mussels in the lake as there are gallons of water. Each mussel is the size of a thumbnail and, under the right conditions, their combined force can filter the entire volume of water in Lake Michigan in less than a week. The resulting crystal clear waters are great for beachgoers but extremely problematic for the lake ecosystem. In this talk, Christine discusses some of the causes of eutrophy (too much vegetation) in Western Lake Erie and oligotrophy (too little vegetation) in Lake Michigan and how lake-wide management strategies for one problem can exacerbate another.

About Christine:

Christine Kitchens is a research technician at the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan. She graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Science from North Carolina State University and an M.S. in Conservation Ecology from the University of Michigan. While she performs a variety of tasks at the cooperative institute, she primarily spends her days helping monitor and understand harmful algal blooms in Western Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron. When she does manage to find some free time, she spends it running around doing more volunteering with the Huron River Watershed Council and other various local environmental organizations, playing video/board games, and basically being a massive nerd in all facets of life.

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Nerd Nite #65 - Cats: A Look Into the Feisty Feline

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 4:16pm

This talk takes a look into the domestication of cats, cultural influences, and a few cat anatomy characteristics. There is also interactive trivia on different cat breeds.

About Jessica Amey:

Jessica loves cats.

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Exploring the Mind | Adversity Resilience and the Developing Brain

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 11:52am

Join Dr. Christopher Monk, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience & CHGD Research Professor at the University of Michigan, as he characterizes the developmental risks of childhood adversity and discusses the social and biological mechanisms that may explain the striking degree of resilience found in the adolescent brain.

Childhood adversity, such as growing up in poverty or experiencing parental neglect, is associated with a host of negative outcomes, including depression and low educational attainment. Although it is understood that these types of adversity alter the brain and increase the risk for problems, it is not known what forms of adversity are most pernicious and how they affect the brain. In the presentation, Dr. Monk describes a study comprised predominantly of adolescents from low-income backgrounds who have been followed since birth. Using brain imaging methods, Dr. Monk shows how two specific and chronic forms of adversity, violence exposure and social deprivation, impact brain development in different ways.  At the same time, the adolescents show a striking degree of resilience, despite the challenging circumstances. 

Dr. Monk is a Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry. He is also a Research Professor in the Survey Research Center at ISR and the Center for Human Growth and Development. Dr. Monk received his PhD in Child Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota. He then went on to the NIMH Intramural Research Program where he was a postdoc and later a fellow. His research program involves two active and related lines of research. In the first line, he is examining how poverty-related stressors and the developmental timing of those stressors impact brain development, stress hormone regulation and anxiety as well as depression symptoms during adolescence. For the second line of research, he is investigating how effective treatments for anxiety (cognitive behavioral therapy or medication) alter brain function and how these brain alterations relate to clinical outcome in children and adolescents.