DATE: Saturday, June 4, 2011
TIME: 4:30 PM-5:30 PM
VENUE: NYU Kimmel Center, Rosenthal Pavilion
MODERATOR: Julie Burstein
PARTICIPANTS: Cristina Alberini, Adam Kolber, Joseph LeDoux, Lynn Nadel, Elizabeth Phelps, Todd Sacktor

We are our memories, but can they be tampered with? Erased? What are the ethical considerations? Whether enhancing memory for an aging population or inhibiting memories that prevent function, new drugs bring new possibilities for abuse and misuse. Even in their most welcome applications, these drugs raise profound questions about the relationship between the subjective experience of memory and the true nature of what we remember.

Some of the advanced topics which the conversation may explore include: Latest progress in memory research, including the enzyme PKMzeta and memory “erasure,” infusion of the protein synthesis inhibitor anisomycin, problems of animal models in memory research, and therapeutic implications inherent in these discoveries.

World Science Festival Salons are an opportunity for in-depth conversations with world-leading scientists, extending the discussion of the Festival’s flagship public programs at a level appropriate for graduate students, postdocs, faculty and particularly well-informed members of the general public.

Related flagship program:
The Unbearable Lightness of Memory
Learn more about all the WSF Salons

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

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Author, Radio Producer

Julie Burstein is a Peabody Award-winning radio producer, best-selling author, and public speaker who has spent her working life in conversation with highly creative people. She is the co-author of Spark: How Creativity Works, a book which examines the sources of artists’ inspiration and the processes that bring their work into being. She is also the creator of Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen for Public Radio International, public radio’s premiere program about creativity, entertainment, and the arts. She led the Studio 360 creative team at WNYC for many years. She has also created radio series for Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic, and her many stories about on design, music, dance, theater, and visual arts have been featured on Studio 360 and Marketplace. Burstein is the host of, conversations about creative approaches to the challenges, possibilities, and pleasures of everyday life and work.



Cristina Alberini, professor in the Departments of Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Structural and Chemical Biology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and has been studying the biological mechanisms of long-term memory for the last 20 years. Her studies explore the biological mechanisms of memory consolidation and reconsolidation, the processes by which newly learned information becomes long-lasting memories, and how memories are modulated and integrated into complex behavioral manifestations. Her studies utilize the basic understandings of the mechanisms of memory formation to unravel how memory becomes an integral part of pathologies like addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Alberini graduated from the University of Pavia in Italy with honors and obtained a doctorate in Research in Immunological Sciences from the University of Genoa in Italy. She trained as a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University, studying the role of gene expression regulation during long-term synaptic plasticity consolidation in Aplysia californica. From 1997 to 2000, she served on the faculty of Brown University before joining Mount Sinai in 2001. She received a Hirschl-Weill Career Scientist Award and NARSAD Independent Investigator Award and the Golgi Medal. She has been a member of the Council of the Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society (MCCS) and the society’s Treasurer since 2007. She is the current elected president of MCCS.

Photo credit: Renato De Pascale

Professor of Law

Adam Kolber is a professor at Brooklyn Law School where he writes and teaches in the areas of criminal law, health law, bioethics, and neuroethics. He created the Neuroethics & Law Blog in 2005 and taught the first law school course devoted to law and neuroscience in 2006. In 2007-2008, Kolber was a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Fellow at Princeton University. As part of a MacArthur Foundation grant, he taught law and neuroscience topics to federal and state judges. His work has been frequently quoted in the media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

Kolber began his academic career on the faculty of the University of San Diego School of Law. Before that, he clerked for the Honorable Chester J. Straub of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and practiced law with Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York. He graduated Order of the Coif from Stanford Law School, where he was an associate editor of the Stanford Law Review. Prior to law school, he was a business ethics consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Among his recent publications, Kolber has written “Freedom of Memory Today,” 1 Neuroethics 145 (2008); “Therapeutic Forgetting: The Legal and Ethical Implications of Memory Dampening,” 59 Vanderbilt Law Review 1561 (2006); “The Experiential Future of the Law,” 60 Emory Law Journal 585 (2011); “The Subjective Experience of Punishment,” 109 Columbia Law Review 182 (2009); “The Comparative Nature of Punishment,” 89 Boston University Law Review 1565 (2009); and “Pain Detection and the Privacy of Subjective Experience,” 33 American Journal of Law & Medicine 433 (2007).

Neuroscientist, Author, Musician

Joseph LeDoux is a professor of neural science at NYU, and director of the Emotional Brain Institute involving NYU and the Nathan Kline Institute. LeDoux’s research is focused on the brain mechanisms of emotion and memory. He is author of The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life and Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are, and is also the lead singer and song writer in the rock band, The Amygdaloids. LeDoux’s lyrics are about mind, brain, and mental disorders, and are based on his research. Rosanne Cash sings two songs with him on Theory of My Mind, the group’s recent CD.


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.

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.

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.