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The 2011 World Science Festival took place on June 1-June 5 in New York City. We offered a slate of exciting new programs and old favorites this year, all aimed at unlocking the beauty and complexity of science for everyone. Sign up for our newsletter to stay connected and get exclusive interviews, stories, and updates.

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF MEMORY

memory
Date: Friday, June 3, 2011
Time: 08:00 PM-09:30 PM
Venue: Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College
Moderator: Dan Harris
Participants: Daniel L. Schacter, Lynn Nadel, Todd Sacktor, Elizabeth Phelps

It’s the thought of your childhood home. It’s that comforting aroma you can still smell ten years later. It’s the way you define yourself. It’s your memory. Where is memory stored? How do we recall? Why do we forget? We’ll shine a light on these and many other questions about long-term memory from a molecular, psychological, and emotional perspective. The audience discovered how their long-term memories can be naturally twisted, tweaked, and changed, and how memories of the past could also help us peer into the future. We explored the bumpy road even a youthful mind sometimes travels when experiencing déjà vu, succumbing to suggestibility, or having a “senior” moment.

Related WSF Salon: Manipulating Memory: Progress and Implications

On the Blog: The Biological Mechanism That Gives Life Meaning

See all the content from this program

This program was part of The Big, the Small, and the Complex, a Series made possible with the support of The Kavli Prize.

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Moderator

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News Correspondent, Anchor

Dan Harris was named co-anchor of ABC News’ weekend edition of Good Morning America in October 2010. Additionally, Harris is a New York-based correspondent for ABC News’ broadcasts and platforms, including World News with Diane Sawyer, Good Morning America, Nightline, ABC News Digital, and ABC News Radio.

Harris joined ABC News in March 2000 and has covered many of the biggest stories in recent years. He has reported from such diverse datelines as Ground Zero, Pakistan, Afghanistan, South Korea, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. He has also spent many months in Iraq–both before and after the U.S.-led invasion. Domestically, Harris has led ABC News’ coverage of faith, with a particular focus on the evangelical movement. He scored one of the first interviews with former pastor Ted Haggard after his sex and drugs scandal. Harris also has a longstanding interest in indie rock and has started a weekly music show, Amplified, on ABC News NOW and ABCNEWS.com.

Harris has been honored several times for his journalistic contributions. He received a Murrow Award for his reporting on a young Iraqi man who received the necessary help to move to America, and in 2009 won an Emmy Award for his Nightline report “How to Buy a Child in Ten Hours.”

Participants

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Psychologist, Author

Daniel L. Schacter is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He has published over 350 articles and chapters exploring the relation between conscious and unconscious memory, the nature of memory distortions, how individuals use memory to imagine the future, and the effects of aging on memory. His groundbreaking research has garnered numerous rewards, including the Troland Award (1991), the Award for Scientific Reviewing from the National Academy of Sciences (2005), and the Howard Crosby Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists (2009). Schacter is also a member of the Society of Experimental Psychologists and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Many of Schacter’s studies and ideas are summarized in his 1996 book, Searching for Memory, and his 2001 contribution, The Seven Sins of Memory. Both publications are winners of the APA’s William James Book Award, and both received recognition as New Times Notable Books of the Year. More recently, Schacter co-authored an introductory text, entitled Psychology, with Daniel T. Gilbert and Daniel M. Wegner.

Schacter received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1981 and taught on the faculty at Toronto for the next six years before joining the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychology in 1987. In 1989, he was appointed associate professor, and in 1991, he became professor of psychology at Harvard University, serving as chair of the department from 1995-2005.

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Psychologist

Focused on the functions of the hippocampus in memory and spatial cognition, Lynn Nadel’s work has led to significant contributions in the study of stress and memory, sleep and memory, memory reconsolidation, and mental retardation observed in Down syndrome. He has helped promulgate two highly influential theories in cognitive neuroscience: the cognitive map theory of hippocampal function and the multiple trace theory of memory. Nadel’s research has been published in over 175 journal articles, chapters, and books, and has been supported by grants from NIMH, NSF, NICHD, NINDS, and several private foundations.

Nadel is Regents Professor of psychology and cognitive science, and director of the Cognition and Neural Systems Program at the University of Arizona. Nadel also serves as the editor-in-chief of Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, and is on the editorial boards of numerous journals exploring cognition and neural science. In 2005, he was the co-recipient of the Grawemeyer Prize in Psychology for his contributions to the “cognitive map” theory. In 2006, he was granted the National Down Syndrome Society’s Research Award. Nadel is a fellow of the American Psychological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Society of Experimental Psychologists.

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Neurologist, Neuroscientist

A 1978 Harvard graduate, Todd Sacktor completed his M.D. at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his neurology residency at Columbia University, where he began studying the role of the enzyme protein kinase C (PKC) in the short-term memory of Aplysia (marine snails).

In 1990, Sacktor established his own laboratory at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where he discovered a brain-specific form of PKC called PKMzeta. In 2002, his lab demonstrated that PKMzeta was both necessary and sufficient for maintaining long-term potentiation—the leading candidate mechanism for memory in the brain. Five years ago, Sacktor and his colleagues uncovered PKMzeta’s impact in maintaining the brain’s long-term memory trace. As recently as 2011, research has shown that decreasing PKMzeta activity disrupts previously stored long-term memories and increasing PKMzeta activity enhances them.

In 2006, the editors of Science highlighted Sacktor’s work on PKMzeta and memory as one of the top ten “Breakthroughs of the Year.” In 2009, his contributions were featured on the front page of The New York Times. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Physiology, Pharmacology, and Neurology at SUNY Downstate.

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Cognitive Neuroscientist

Elizabeth A. Phelps is the director of the Phelps Lab at the New York University Center for Neuroeconomics. Her laboratory has earned widespread acclaim for its groundbreaking research on how the human brain processes emotion, particularly as it relates to learning, memory and decision-making.

Phelps received her PhD from Princeton University in 1989, served on the faculty of Yale University until 1999, and is currently the Silver Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University.

She is the recipient of the 21st Century Scientist Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society for Experimental Psychology. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association for Psychological Science and the Society for Neuroethics, was the President of the Society for Neuroeconomics and has served as the editor of the APA journal Emotion.

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