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Lecture Dedicated To Understanding The Brain

Published: April 15, 2014

The College of Engineering’s (COE) Distinguished Lecture Series returns to campus on Thursday, April 24, under the topic “Reverse Engineering of the Brain.”

The event will be held in The Pointe of the Walter Pyramid, with registration beginning at 5 p.m. and the event at 5:30 p.m. To register e-mail Admission is free.

The lecture will be moderated by the Aerospace Corporation’s Senior Project Leader Nick Sramek and will include among its panel experts the University of Pennsylvania’s Roy Hamilton and Director of Neurobehavior for the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Mario Mendez.

“The upcoming lecture is dedicated to understanding the brain—an organ that has 100 billion neurons, weighs about three pounds and uses nearly 20 percent of all the oxygen taken into the body,” explained COE Dean Forouzan Golshani. “I’m very pleased by the panel of experts we have assembled for this lecture, the third one in the biomedical engineering related areas.”

Established in 2009 by the Dean’s Advisory Council of the College of Engineering, the lecture series has become the signature event for the college. Presented in the fall and spring each year in the Walter Pyramid, the lectures draw a wide audience to discuss various national imperatives in a flexible format. The lectures are videotaped for later broadcast on local TV and webcast on Beach TV.

Sponsors include Applied Medical, the Port of Long Beach, Forte Designs, P2S and SDGE.

“The key objective to reverse engineering the brain is deciphering details of the brain’s secret communication code,” Golshani said. “Nerve cells communicate by firing electrical pulses that release small molecules called neurotransmitters. Because each nerve cell receives messages from tens of thousands of others, it is extremely difficult to completely trace the signaling pathways.”

Mendez is the Director of the Behavioral Neurology Program of the UCLA Department of Neurology since 2013. He attended the University of Texas Medical Branch and graduate school in experimental psychology at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of about 220 articles and three books, and his recent research focuses on front temporal dementia and traumatic brain injury.

Hamilton is an assistant professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania where he is the Director of the Laboratory for Cognition and Neural Stimulation. The central thrust of his research is to use electrical and magnetic noninvasive brain stimulation to explore the characteristics and limits of functional plasticity in the intact and injured adult human brain.

“Human biologists, computer scientists and engineers are teaming to advance neuroscience toward achieving yet another one of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges, understanding the complex network we call a brain. Brain mapping has become an extremely important topic in light of the Human Genome project,” Golshani said. “Success in mapping the brain depends on the ability to reverse engineer how it functions. It is the connections in the brain that create intelligence. The next challenge for scientists and engineers is understanding that.”

Golshani pointed with pride to last year’s lecture topics, “Engineering for the Body: Reproducing Body Functions” in October 2012 and “Bioengineering: Robotics and Medicine” in April 2013.

“These have been extremely successful events,” said Golshani. “We have had full houses for topics where we feel have made a contribution to the field of medicine.”

Lecture Dedicated To Understanding The Brain
Illustration By Jorge Hurtado

Golshani believes the series helps the College of Engineering to fulfill what it is here to do by strengthening its regional relevance. “We want to create knowledge and have an impact on the area’s socio-economic status and these lectures connect us more closely to the area,” he said. “They also help to create an identity for the College of Engineering because our faculty, staff and students have become involved in these areas of research. The series strengthens connections to community, branding and education.”

CSULB’s COE has many strengths including the establishment of a strong presence in research, said Golshani.

“The most recent lectures on environment, energy and water express a major theme in the College of Engineering,” said Golshani. “The most recent lectures in the biomedical area offer yet another example of an emphasis area we are embarking on. By virtue of the level of communication the college attains thanks to this lecture series, we are better empowered to make sound decisions.”

Golshani wants to see the series continue with looks at such topics as manufacturing. “It is something badly needed and badly in need of attention,” he said. “This is especially true in Southern California. We’re also interested in examining education and the environment.

“This lecture is an extremely beneficial 90 minutes,” he added. “The topic is timely, the speakers will break down the topics so that anyone can understand and we always have a full house. You need a good reputation to attain that level of attention. “

–Richard Manly