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Stony Brook University

University Libraries STEM Speaker Series

First Lecture: Dr. Luis Álvarez-Gaumé, Director of Simons Center for Geometry and Physics

Title: News from the Cosmos: The Unsettling Universe

Over the last few decades we have learned a large amount of fundamental information about the structure and properties of the Universe, at the microscopic and macroscopic levels, and we have also learned of the deep interconnection between the very large and the very small. The study of black holes, the early universe and inflationary scenarios, the stability of the current state of the universe have become accessible to observation. The universe has given us a shock therapy: There is so much we do not understand...  Sometimes it is akin to what happened to physics at the end of the XIX century. When they thought they had all the answers, Nature changed all the questions. In this presentation we will go over part of the vast landscape of fundamental open questions, and how we were led to address them. 


Dr. Luis Álvarez-Gaumé has joined the SCGP in September 2016 as the Center's Director. Dr. Luis Álvarez-Gaumé did his graduate work at the Department of Physics and the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook and at MIT and received his PhD from Stony brook in 1981. After being a Junior Fellow at Harvard and then having faculty positions at Harvard and at Boston University, in 1988 Luis became a senior staff member of the Theory Group at CERN, a position has has held ever since. He was long-time Department Head of the Theory Group and is currently its Deputy Head. His position at CERN has brought Luis into contact with virtually the entire community of theoretical and experimental high energy physicists and has given him a vast knowledge and understanding of contemporary theoretical physics and cosmology.

Luis' own work includes groundbreaking contributions to string theory and quantum field theory, especially supersymmetric theories. He studied gravitational anomalies that arise in quantum field theories; he gave a proof using supersymmetry of the Atiyah-Singer index theorem in the context of physical theories. More recently he has studies cosmology, in particular inflation and black holes. He has written introductory lectures on Quantum Field Theory and a pedagogical introduction to Seiberg-Witten theory. He is a Corresponding Member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences. 


Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Time: 1pm-2pm

Location: Special Collections Seminar Room, E-2340, second floor of the Melville Library

Second Lecture: Dr. Arianna Maffei, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior

Title: Neural Mechanisms for Taste Learning

What happens in the brain when we experience the world or learn something new? The goal of the research in my lab is to unveil how experience and learning modify connectivity and excitability of neuronal circuits, and to relate neuronal and circuit changes to behavior.

During this talk, I will focus on our recent work regarding learning in the gustatory cortex. Taste preferences established early in life appear to influence food choices in adulthood. However, how taste preferences are established and what are the neural underpinnings for this process has not been investigated. Furthermore, taste can be good and pleasant, or bad and aversive. The sensory and affective component of taste can be separated by learning. For example, a pleasurable taste can become aversive if it is associated with malaise, effectively splitting the sensory and hedonic component of taste perception.

As taste guides feeding behaviors in all mammalian species, many of the mechanisms regulating the taste system are shared across species. The gustatory cortex is involved in the detection and encoding of both sensory and emotional (hedonic) aspects of taste. However, how this information is integrated at the level of local circuits and synapses is currently unknown. I will present experimental evidence for the presence a critical period for the development of taste preferences and I will discuss the circuit underpinning for the association of the identity of a taste with its hedonic value (whether a taste is pleasant or aversive). I will then show how plasticity at amygdalocortical synapses can modify the hedonic value of a taste by changing it from pleasurable to aversive. The results of this work have important implications for our understanding of taste perception and taste guided behaviors. More broadly, they also inform us about association of stimuli with their pleasant or aversive value modulates our perception of sensory stimuli.


Arianna Maffei graduated in Biology from the University of Pavia (Italy) in 1997 and received a Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Pavia in 2001. She was a postdoctoral scholar at Brandeis University from 2002 to 2008. In 2008, she joined the faculty of the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior at Stony Brook and became Professor in 2020. She directs the laboratory for Neural Circuits and Plasticity and since 2020 she is the director of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience.  She is Chief editor for Frontiers in Cellular Neurophysiology, an associate editor for The Journal of Neuroscience and eNeuro, and is a member of the editorial board of iScience. She is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS).


Date: Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Time: 1pm-2pm

Location: Special Collections Seminar Room, E-2340, second floor of the Melville Library


Please register here.