Aug 9, 2011

Damn It, Basal Ganglia

The basal ganglia is a core part of the brain, deep inside your skull, that helps control movement. Unless something upsets the chain of command. In this short, Jad and Robert meet a young researcher who was studying what happens when the basal ganglia gets short-circuited in mice...until one fateful day, when things got really, really weird.

After graduating from college in 2009, Liza Shoenfeld got a job as a research associate in a lab at the University of California, San Francisco. She was just starting her career in neuroscience, and though she was kind of at the bottom of the totem pole, she got to be a part of some really cutting-edge research. As Liza explains, the lab was zeroing in on how the basal ganglia worked by experimenting on mice. And more specifically, her lab figured out a way to essentially switch different parts of the basal ganglia on and off, by shining a special laser into their little mouse brains.

You can watch a video of the mice here (it was posted to Nature, along with a paper on basal ganglia pathways).

So, armed with her lab skills and an interest in the basal ganglia, Liza started applying to grad schools where she could turn her experience with the mice into research questions of her own.

And this is where things get strange. When Liza got to her final round of interviews, everything got turned on its head. And Liza got much closer to her subject then she'd ever intended.


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