DATE: Wednesday, May 27, 2015
TIME: 8:00 PM-9:30 PM
VENUE: NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
MODERATOR: Richard Besser
PARTICIPANTS: Nita A. Farahany, Richard Haier, Michael Weisend

How far would you go to improve your focus, memory, or even learning ability? Would you be willing to strap on headgear that delivers electrical shocks to targeted areas of your brain? You may soon have that option. It’s called transcranial direct current stimulation, and it’s currently being tested on soldiers and used by gamers, students, and others looking for a cognitive edge. But questions linger: does it work? What are potential long-term effects? And how should it be regulated?

The Big Ideas series is supported in part by the John Templeton Foundation.

Our media partner for this program is The Week.

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(ABC/Heidi Gutman)
Physician, Journalist

Richard Besser is ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. In this role, he provides medical analysis and commentary for all ABC News broadcasts and platforms, including World News with David Muir, Good Morning America, and Nightline. Besser came to ABC News from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he served as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response. He also served as acting director for the CDC. Besser began his career at the CDC in 1991 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Following this, he served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, as the pediatric residency director. While in San Diego he worked for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. He returned to the CDC in 1998, where he served in various capacities, including epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch. He received a Surgeon General’s Medallion award for his leadership during the H1N1 response. Richard Besser holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.


Bioethicist, Law Professor

Nita A. Farahany is a Professor of Law & Philosophy at Duke University and the director of Duke Science & Society. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, and continues to serve as a member. She is a widely published scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of the biosciences and emerging technologies. Farahany is an elected member of the American Law Institute, a board member of the International Neuroethics Society and the Center for Responsible Brainwave Technologies, a member of the Law and Ethics Advisory Panel as part of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, and a co-editor in chief of the Journal of Law and the Biosciences. Farahany holds an AB (genetics) from Dartmouth College, and an ALM (biology) from Harvard University, and a JD, MA, and Ph.D. (philosophy) from Duke University.

Richard Haier Headshot_192

Richard J. Haier is professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. Haier is also the associate editor of the Intelligence journal and the president-elect of the International Society for Intelligence Research. His main research interest uses neuroimaging to investigate the structural and functional neuroanatomy of higher cognitive processes, especially human intelligence. Haier is the author of The Neuroscience of Intelligence, due out next year. His research has been featured on Nova Science Now, NPR, CBS Sunday Morning, and in Time, Newsweek, and Scientific American Mind. Richard J. Haier received his Ph.D. in psychology from Johns Hopkins University and his previous appointments include NIMH and Brown University. Haier’s set of video lectures called The Intelligent Brain is available from the Great Courses Company.

blanca li_192px_1
Choreographer, Filmmaker

Blanca Li, whose ROBOT receives its American premiere at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House (June 9-14), has created music videos for Daft Punk, fashion videos for Beyonce, dances for films by Pedro Amodovar, runway shows for Jean Paul Gaultier, and commissions from the Paris Opera Ballet and Metropolitan Opera. She was born in Granada, Spain where she was en route to becoming a world class gymnast before abandoning the sport to travel to New York City. She then spent the next five years studying at the Martha Graham Dance Center. Li moved back to Europe to found her own contemporary dance company in Paris, which in its 22 years, has performed in over 1,000 venues worldwide. Most recently, Blanca Li directed one of the first immersive dance films for Oculus Rift, which was released in March of this year.

12137 Cory MacPherson, WSRI Researcher Mike Weisend 9-12-13

Michael Weisend is a neuroscientist whose research uses structural and functional neuroimaging to investigate normal memory, epilepsy, mental illness, and cognitive dysfunction. He is an expert in identifying brain areas where epilepsy originates and where motor, sensory, and language cortices are located using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Neurosurgeons use MEG results in planning brain surgeries for tumors or epilepsy. His team also developed novel approaches and technologies that combine neuroimaging with transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) to enhance learning and vigilance in civilian and military subjects. Weisend and his team have published on topics ranging from traumatic brain injury and mental illness to novel technologies in neuroimaging and brain stimulation. His work has been featured in numerous popular media outlets, including Newsweek, Business Week, The New Scientist, Scientific American, NOVA, Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, Radio Lab, TEDxDayton, and others. Weisend and his team’s work is, or has been, funded by NARSAD, VA, NIH, AFRL, DARPA, CDMRP, DOE, and industry.