Last fall, after two seasons competing in breaststroke on the swim team, Kobi Wasner added 1-meter diving to his repertoire. Like two other members of the team, he was also diving into research in the lab of Carolyn Pytte (Psychology). That work paid off at Hunter College on April 1, when he won the Suzannah Bliss Tieman Research Award at the 22nd conference held by N.E.U.R.O.N. (the Northeast Under/graduate Research Organization for Neuroscience). Wasner was recognized for the poster he presented on lateralization in the caudomedial nidopallium, or NCM, the auditory area in the songbird’s brain that learns and stores vocalizations. (The NCM is thought to be analogous to Werneke’s area, the lateralized speech-specific brain region in humans; in right-handed people, it’s on the left hemisphere.)
In collaboration with fellow QC swimmer Sissi Palma Ribeiro, Wasner studied the NCM in adult zebra finches. They discovered that with exposure to normal vocalizations, a zebra finch forms more new neurons, or nerve cells, in the left hemisphere NCM than in the comparable NCM on the right side of the bird’s brain. But if the finch gets experimentally altered feedback of its own singing, neuron growth is greater on the right side—evidence that nerve cells can be recruited to one hemisphere over the other, and that regions found in both hemispheres of the brain may function differently.
A double major in psychology and neuroscience/biology, Wasner began working in Pytte’s lab in April 2011. “It’s a group project and we all collaborate,” he explains. “My specialty is work on the microscope.”
As in swimming, practice matters. Ten days before his appearance at the N.E.U.R.O.N. conference, Wasner made the same presentation at the undergraduate conference held by the QC chapter of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Still shocked and delighted by his win, he considers it an achievement for everyone in Pytte’s lab. “It’s our first award for a poster,” says Wasner, who has recently been accepted to the master’s program for behavioral neuroscience at QC.
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Contact: Phyllis Cohen Stevens
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