MODERATOR: Gary Marcus
PARTICIPANTS: Philip Rubin, Miyoung Chun, Arthur Caplan, George Church, R. Douglas Fields, Murray Shanahan, Kristen Harris, Rafael Yuste, Christof Koch
PROGRAM DATE: Saturday, June 1, 2013

Join leading neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, biologists, and computer scientists in a discussion on the colossal challenges that must be overcome to understand, record, and analyze our neural wetware. What will it take to understand the human brain? President Obama’s new BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative aims to provide an unprecedented window into the internal life of the brain, which could lead to revolutionary changes in science, medicine, and technology.

The World Science Festival’s annual salon series offers in-depth conversations with leading scientists, extending the discussion of the Festival’s premiere public programs to graduate students, postdocs, faculty and well-informed members of the general public.

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Cognitive Psychologist

Gary Marcus, described by the New York Times as “one of the country’s best-known cognitive psychologists,” has published numerous articles on language, evolution, computation, and cognitive development, in leading scientific journals. He’s the author of four books, including Kluge, The Algebraic Mind, and the New York Times bestseller Guitar Zero. He writes frequently for The Times, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal. His latest book, The Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists, co-edited with Jeremy Freeman, features Nobel laureates May-Britt and Edvard Moser.


Cognitive scientist, technologist, and science administrator

Philip Rubin is the principal assistant director for science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President of the United States, where he also leads the White House Neuroscience Initiative. He is on leave as the CEO of Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Conn., where he remains as a Senior Scientist, and is also a professor adjunct in the department of surgery at Yale School of Medicine and a Fellow of Yale’s Trumbull College. Rubin is a cognitive scientist, technologist, and science administrator who for many years has been involved with issues of science advocacy, education, funding, and policy. His research spans a number of disciplines, combining computational, engineering, linguistic, physiological, and psychological approaches to study embodied cognition, most particularly the biological bases of speech and language. He is best known for his work on articulatory synthesis (computational modeling of the physiology and acoustics of speech production), speech perception, sine wave synthesis, signal processing, perceptual organization, and theoretical approaches and modeling of complex temporal events.

In 2010, he received the APA’s Meritorious Research Service Commendation for his outstanding contributions to psychological science through his service as a leader in research management and policy development at the national level.

Molecular Biologist

Miyoung Chun is vice president of science programs at The Kavli Foundation in Oxnard, California. Prior to her current role, Chun was an assistant dean of science and engineering at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), in particular serving for the California Nanosystems Institute. She was also appointed as director of international research advancement at UC Santa Barbara. In this role, she was active in building partnerships among academia, government, and industry around the globe. She has held research and training grants from foundations, industry and federal agencies. She has served as reviewer for journals as well as scientific review panels for the NIH and private foundations.

From 1999 to 2005, she worked for Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., as a scientist and project leader, where her research focused on genomics/functional genomics and on molecular imaging in drug discovery and development. She discovered and characterized novel genes that are important to inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases and has over 30 US and international issued/published patents. She was a Life Sciences Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Whitehead Institute with Harvey Lodish focusing on the cell and molecular biology of receptors.


Arthur L. Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. Prior to coming to NYU he was the Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics and director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Caplan also taught at the University of Minnesota, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia University. He was the Associate Director of the Hastings Center from 1984-1987. Born in Boston, Caplan did his undergraduate work at Brandeis University, and did his graduate work at Columbia University, where he received a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science.


George Church is professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, director of, providing the world’s only open-access information on human Genomic, Environmental, and Trait data (GET). His 1984 Harvard Ph.D. included the first methods for direct genome sequencing, molecular multiplexing, and barcoding. These lead to the first commercial genome sequence (pathogen, Helicobacter pylori) in 1994. His innovations in “next generation” genome sequencing and synthesis, and cell/tissue engineering resulted in 12 companies spanning fields including medical genomics (Knome, Alacris, AbVitro, GoodStart, Pathogenica) and synthetic biology (LS9, Joule, Gen9, Warp Drive) as well as new privacy, biosafety, and biosecurity policies. He is director of the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science. His honors include election to NAS and NAE, and Franklin Bower laureate for achievement in science.

Neurologist, Author

R. Douglas Fields is a developmental neurobiologist and author of The Other Brain, a popular book about the discovery of brain cells (called glia) that communicate without using electricity. He is an authority on neuron-glia interactions, brain development, and the cellular mechanisms of memory. Fields serves on the editorial board of several neuroscience journals and also enjoys writing about science for the general public in Scientific American, Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Outside, Odyssey,, and others. He received advanced degrees from UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, and the University of California, San Diego. He held postdoctoral fellowships at Stanford, Yale, and the National Institutes of Health. He is currently chief of the section on nervous system development and plasticity at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the NIH. In addition to science, Fields enjoys building guitars, rock-climbing, and scuba diving.

Cognitive Roboticist

Murray Shanahan is a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London. In the 1980s, he studied computer science as an undergraduate at Imperial College, and then obtained his Ph.D. from Cambridge University (King’s College). Since then he has carried out work in artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive science, and has numerous peer-reviewed publications in these areas. For the past decade or so, he has turned his attention to the brain, and the relationship between cognition and consciousness. His book Embodiment and the Inner Life, was published in 2010.


Kristen Harris is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists investigating synapse structure and function. She has been a professor of neuroscience at Harvard, Boston University, Georgia Health Sciences University, and since 2006 in the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of numerous publications and recipient of the prestigious Sloan Fellowship and Javits Neuroscience Investigator Awards, and she serves as a reviewer for the National Institutes of Health. Her research uses 3D reconstructions from electron microscopy to decode the cell biology of learning and memory. Recent findings show that mature neurons sustain a maximum synaptic capacity, exactly balancing the strengthening of some synapses by eliminating weak neighbors during long-term potentiation, a cellular mechanism of learning. These novel findings provide the basis for new understanding of structural and molecular mechanisms of synapse growth and elimination in the mature brain, a crucial step in developing treatments to mend the mind.

Rafael Yuste

Rafael Yuste isprofessor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Columbia University. He was born in Madrid, where he obtained his M.D. at the Universidad Autónoma. After a brief period in Sydney Brenner’s laboratory in Cambridge, UK, he performed Ph.D. studies with Larry Katz in Torsten Wiesel’s laboratory at Rockefeller University and was a postdoctoral student of David Tank at Bell Labs. In1996,Yuste joined the department of biological sciences at Columbia University. In 2005, he became HHMI investigator and co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Circuits at Columbia. He has pioneered the application of optical imaging techniques to study the structure and function of the cerebral cortex. He recently helped launched the BRAIN Initiative, an large-scale scientific project to systematically record and manipulate the activity of complete neural circuits.Rafael Yuste has obtained many awards, including the NYC Mayor’s Young Investigator Award.

Christof Koch_192px

Born in the American Midwest, Christof Koch grew up in Holland, Germany, Canada, and Morocco. He studied Physics and Philosophy and was awarded his Ph.D. in Biophysics. In 1987, Koch joined the California Institute of Technology as a Professor in Biology and Engineering. After a quarter of a century, he left academia for the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, where he is now President and Chief Scientific Officer, leading a decade-long, large-scale effort to build brain observatories to map, analyze, and understand the mouse and human cerebral cortex. Koch has authored more than 300 scientific papers and five books concerned with the way computers and neurons process information and the neuronal and computational basis of visual perception. Together with his longtime collaborator, Francis Crick, Koch pioneered the scientific study of consciousness. His latest book is Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist.