Among the many enigmas of modern science, the brain has to be one of the most exciting ones. People from all walks of life, from psychologists to engineers and scientists to even Yogis, have been fascinated by the intricate functioning of the human brain. Facilitated largely by interdisciplinary collaborations, the field of neuroscience has grown leaps and bounds. Of many interesting open questions in neuroscience an interesting one pertains to cognition — what are the brain functions that underlie perception and behaviours such as vision, attention, movement and memory. To discuss recent developments and familiarise budding neuroscientists with the field, the Centre for Neuroscience (CNS) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) organised the Bangalore Cognition Workshop from June 19 to July 2, 2016 in collaboration with the International Brain Research Organisation, Indo-US Science and Technology Forum and Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance.
The workshop, now in its 4th edition, assembled experts from various disciplines of cognition from all over the world together with students from leading Institutions around the country. The first workshop in this series was held in 2009 at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC). The second and the third workshops were held in 2011 and 2013 at IISc, Bangalore. “The goal of the workshop is three-fold”, explains Supratim Ray, the organiser from CNS. “The biggest goal is to bring together an elite group of scientists to India and enable an effective discussion that motivates students to pursue the field of neuroscience. The other is to foster an increased collaboration between different scientists and attendees. The third is to showcase the impressive science being conducted in India and the role of IISc in its growth”.
The workshop was divided into 5 focused lecture modules over the course of 2 weeks: Vision, Brain signals at multiple scales, Attention, Movement and Memory. Apart from these lecture modules, 2 days were dedicated to hands-on workshops on human behavioural experiments, Electroencephalography (EEG) and brain imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).. The workshop opened with a day of introductory lectures that were delivered by the coordinators of the different modules and were designed to orient the student attendees to the material that would be covered during the workshop.
During the first week, an expert panel of researchers delineated the principles underlying visual perception, attention, and brain signals across multiple scales. Speaking during the vision module, SP Arun from the Center for Neuroscience, IISc, explained the workings in the high level vision areas of the brain. Ed Connor from Johns Hopkins University described the series of transformation and computations in the intermediate stages of vision. Every module ended with a very lively panel discussion that brought together lecturers and students, and provided a platform to discuss the relevant open questions that remain unanswered in the field. “The quality of students attending this workshop is very good. This is a great opportunity for them and for us to interact with each other and bounce off ideas,” remarked Adam Kohn from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, after the panel discussion at the end of the attention module.
Principles of motor movement and memory, and spatial navigation dominated the conversation during the second week of the workshop. The highlight of the second week was the public lecture by Michael Goldberg, Professor at Columbia University, who described his research on the motor system.
The workshop attracted bright young talent from some of the best Institutions in India. 40 students from various IITs, IISERs, NBRC, NIMHANS and several other reputed colleges attended the workshop. Manpreet Singh, a student fromIIT, Roorkee said “I came to the conference uncertain about pursuing research in the field of neuroscience but after attending the workshop, I am very certain that I will take it up”. Thomas Albright from the Salk Institute, who has been instrumental in the organisation of the workshop from its first edition remarked, “Neuroscience is still blossoming in India. it is very important for Indian neuroscience community to have presence on world stage and this workshop has helped achieved that.”
A version of this article will be covered in the September issue of CONNECT.