the University of Chicago

Sukbin Lim, neurobiology postdoctoral researcher at The University of Chicago, spoke on campus Tuesday about how models of neuron activity in the brain can be used to predict cognition and memory function.
Photo Credit: Alejandro Diaz | Daily Texan Staff

Sukbin Lim, neurobiology postdoctoral researcher at The University of Chicago, is working to build a conceptual model of the brain that will help researchers better understand how neurons communicate and affect short-term and long-term memory.

Lim spoke on campus Tuesday about how models of neuron activity in the brain can be used to predict cognition and memory function, which could help research with Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. 

“The brain is a network of neurons randomly firing, and so [I studied] how this affects short-term and long-term memory,” Lim said. 

By applying her Ph.D. in mathematics to neuroscience, Lim developed a theory to analyze the randomness of neurons firing in the brain, which she plans to test on primates.

“Positive [neuron] signal is thought to be most important [to study in neuroscience], but interaction between negative and positive neuron signal is also important,” Lim said. “There’s indirect evidence in brain activity, and we have to think about what is biologically plausible.”

Lim said if she builds a testable model for parts of the brain that control short-term and long-term memory, she hopes breakthroughs in how different areas of the brain communicate and interact will follow. A model could be used to increase individuals’ visual and auditory memory and overall cognitive skills.

Nace Golding, UT neuroscience associate professor, said studying neuron randomness might help scientists map brain activity, since neurons are not fully understood.

“Neurons are imperfect, but neuroscientists aren’t sure whether this unreliability is a bug or a feature,” Golding said.

Ian Nauhaus, psychology and neuroscience assistant professor, said he found Lim’s models on memory and learning interesting because this type of model is brand new.

“There are other models which are very similar, but her model is novel because it shows graded effects in memory,” Nauhaus said. “Actually implementing that data into a model is not trivial. In neuroscience, models are important because they allow us to predict what’s going to happen.”

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

In the midst of exams and final projects, the UT Department of American Studies invites students, faculty and members of the Austin community to take a break and play this Friday. 

The “Practices of Play” is a day-long symposium organized by Harrington Faculty Fellowship recipient, Patrick Jagoda.

Jagoda, assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago, concentrates on new media in video games and television. He runs a gaming lab in Chicago, where he conducts research on the topic of play. During his time at UT, he researches experimental games. 

“There is some massive cultural fascination in games that is taking place right now,” Jagoda said. “I am interested in how the kinds of games we play in 2014 often times preclude play.”

According to Jagoda, American culture is captivated by sensations such as The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft and reality shows. Despite these gaming outlets, Jagoda said playfulness may be diminishing in society. 

“I’m exploring what practices and spaces still encourage experimental play in our culture,” Jagoda said. “My hope is to use the symposium to think together about how play gets used as a method, a practice and an object of study across various disciplines.”

Jagoda has invited experts in various disciplines from UT, but also academics from Pratt, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Chicago to speak Friday. 

The symposium is split into three parts, beginning at 10 a.m. with a section on the playful humanities. Tanya Clement, assistant professor in the School of Information, will speak about her work curating humanities data and evaluating changing resources and technologies.

“I understand play as a situated and social, world-making and world-weary, rule-aware and rule-breaking, real-time act of performing critical interpretation,” Clement wrote on the symposium blog. 

The second section of the symposium is interactive and focuses on education and play. Symposium participants will be prompted to design a game on a board that speaks to different social and political issues in Austin. The third panel is about art and games. 

“The final session will feature two amazing art game creators — Eddo Stern from UCLA and Paolo Pedercini from Carnegie Mellon,” Jagoda said. “Paolo creates anti-capitalist and critical video games. Eddo makes short films and mixed media digital games that involve theatrical and game components.”

Graduate student and doctoral candidate Carrie Anderson is working on a dissertation in American Studies about the cultural impact of drones, including the representation of drone technology in video games. Anderson is most excited for the group discussion at the end of the symposium. 

“I think whenever you get a lot of people in a room who do different things in different fields, the kinds of conversations that can emerge from that interdisciplinary mix are always really, really exciting,” Anderson said. “I’m really excited about that cross-pollination and seeing what emerges from
the conversation.”

Both Anderson and Jagoda encourage attendees from various and diverse academic and cultural backgrounds.  

“There aren’t a whole lot of events that bring together that kind of weird mix of people,” Anderson said. “My experience is going to be so different from someone who is just a real fan of Halo, for example.”

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The first of two candidates vying for the prestigious Carlos E. Castaneda Postdoctoral Fellowship presented his research, which focuses on militarization along the Mexican-American border from 1848 to present, to a faculty committee Wednesday.

C.J. Alvarez, a doctoral candidate from the University of Chicago, said his research interests are inspired in large part by his personal background.

“I grew up [near the border]. I witnessed the changes that happened there …. I am a historian, and I was trying to understand where it fit with my thesis,” Alvarez said.

The fellowship is offered through the Center for Mexican American Studies and grants the winner a one-year residency at UT, along with several perks, including a $48,000 stipend. The selected fellow has to teach one undergraduate class and conduct a public lecture.

“This interview process is more than judging how to teach a class, but to see intellectual promise, professionalism and contribution to the unit and UT-Austin more broadly,” said Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, American Studies associate professor and the center’s associate director.

Castaneda — the namesake of the fellowship and the University’s Perry-Castaneda Library — was one of the first Mexican-American studies scholars and activists, and graduated and taught at UT.

The second finalist for the fellowship is Priscilla Leiva, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California who will give a presentation Wednesday at the Student Activity Center on the presence of professional sports stadiums in America, and how they affect their surrounding communities. 

“First it giveth, then it taketh away.” The rock band Queens of the Stone Age lyrics sum up the situation at Pennsylvania State University.

On July 23, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced punitive measures against Penn State’s athletic program in response to the university’s internal investigation, which found administrators and coaches covered up the sexual abuse scandal surrounding former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, banned the school from participating in post-season play for the next four years and scrubbed the Nittany Lions’ football wins from the past 14 years of NCAA records.

Many cheered, but the most outspoken critics questioned whether the NCAA overstepped its bounds with a too-harsh punishment.

More important and a less popular discussion was not the NCAA fine’s fairness, but how American universities have reached the point where athletic departments’ can cough up a $60 million fine.

At UT, $60 million quadruples the money allocated to the university library system in the 2011-12 budget, and further dwarfs the teaching budgets apportioned to many schools and colleges campus-wide.

As with Penn State’s, but few others nationwide, UT’s athletic department is self-sustaining and isn’t subsidized by the university. And while Penn State’s $53.2 million annual revenue from football – which, not coincidentally, is roughly the amount of the NCAA’s fine – may seem large, it’s $20 million short of UT’s football program revenue from the 2010-11 fiscal year, the most recent period for which data is available publicly.

For thousands of students and alumni, college athletics are central to the university experience. UT’s athletic program contributes funds to the university’s general budget. Eager fans purchase season tickets and officially licensed UT merchandise (the royalties from which contribute to the athletic department’s yearly budget surplus). It is difficult to advocate completely forsaking the department, which earns yearly revenues more than twice the nearly $78 million annual budget for the College of Liberal Arts, the school with the largest budget allocation on campus.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, the reform-minded chancellor of the University of Chicago from 1945-1951 famously said: “There are two ways for a university to be great: It must either have a great football team or a great president.”

Hutchins abolished the University of Chicago’s intercollegiate football program and built a world renowned institution of higher education.

At Penn State, the football program and its former head coach, Joe Paterno, provided the school with millions of dollars’ worth of scholarships and endowment funds and also gave the school a source of pride and identity. But with its role in the Sandusky scandal, the same football program, the main event in State College, PA or “Happy Valley,” took from the campus what it once gave—money and morale.

Penn State and the University of Chicago teach our university not to conflate the success of our athletic teams with the success of our academic departments. The health of one, financial or otherwise, is often confused with the health of the other ­, a mistake.

The Texas Constitution mandates the establishment of “a university of the first class ... for the promotion of literature, and the arts and sciences.”

Having a football program that solely perpetuates its own success without significantly contributing to UT’s stated larger mission sidesteps the original justification for the university’s existence.

Penn State also shows that college football, where the stakes and dollar figures are so high, developed a culture of loyalty so unyielding that the welfare of disadvantaged children became a secondary consideration. Few athletic programs operate under stakes as high as those that existed in pre-scandal Penn State, but UT’s is among the few that do. The cautionary tale of Happy Valley is one from which UT must learn.