Neuronerds in the Mist: Saturday

(Bloggers’s note: Renaisauce will be blogging from the Society of Neuroscience Conference on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. If anyone know of anything awesome going on, please let me know!)

Every year, an obscure, unique group of 30,000 neuroscientists converges on a convention center in a major city. Best party ever.

Right now I’m sitting in the hallway of the Washington Convention Center in DC. It’s 5 pm. The roar of the crowds slipping out of the poster sessions is ebbing as students and professors return to their hotel rooms for a good few hours of sleep prior to some serious clubbing. The mix is completely heterogeneous: the undergrads who were not warned that casual dress was OK, the aging men and women who have done this a million times and are just looking for someone to discuss baseball for five days, the tired grad students with plastic tubes strapped to their backs like bazookas, toting posters that they just spent 4 hours summarizing while standing in high heels. All are experiencing the jolt of excitement of being in a place with so many people that speak their language fluently. It’s all the nerdiness of a comic book convention without any of the costumes. Next year I should come dressed up like a spinal chord.

My return to this meeting brings back memories of my first time to Neuroscience, here in DC, three years ago. I remembered the hippocampus poetry slam where someone assigned notes to the neuronal firings of 200 recorded neurons. I remembered attending the Alzheimer’s karaoke night and watching several professors get up and belt out the hit song “Earl has to die”. I remembered the speech given by the Dalai Lama about the interaction between science and happiness (essentially, he believed that if there is a part of the brain that makes you feel more at peace, it’s activity should be amplified. Take that as you will.)

It’s still hard to say if this one will be just as riveting. Right now I’m skipping the lecture about what bird songs can teach us about the human mind (I hope you’re happy). I got to talk to a guy who described how the shape of the bat ear helps it focus the way it interprets direction in echolocation. I guess it can only get more exciting, right?

I’ve been looking through the catalog for different events. Here are some (serious) example of the ads for post-meeting fun:

“Pavlovian Society Social: at the sound of the bell, be prepared to meet and mingle …”

“Cell Death Social: Come and Play Deadly Games. This year we are planning to organize a “Cell Death” mixer…”

“Excitatory Amino Acids Social: The Height of Excitation.”

“Computational Neuroscience Social (Not an Oxymoron).”

And this year’s winner…

“Oculomotor and Vestibular Systems Social: Games of Balance. Balance and stability of the name of the game; Show off your skills; You’ll be rewarded with fame; It’s partly academic but definitely not lame; ‘Cause meeting new friends is also an aim; Enjoy some drinks as you learn their names; At night’s end, the winner we will proclaim.”

Yup. These are my people.

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