Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Introductions are in order.

Hello, my name is Jonathan Ehrich, and I'll be your blogger this evening.

I'm 27 years old, and am currently starting my last semester working towards a BS in Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. If that seems a bit... old... to be finishing off an undergraduate degree, you'd be precisely right. But don't worry, I haven't spent the last decade working studying Neuroscience undergrad; this is actually my second Bachelor's, I also have a BA in Religious Studies from Macalester College.

Don't ask; it's a story that will probably be told someday, as part of some desperate attempt to make an obscure point. Patience is a virture, I'm frequently told.

My main areas of interest (today) are cognitive psychology, drug addiction, and ethnopharmacology. I've taken a couple classes on ethnopharm, studying under Dr. Dennis McKenna. I'm currently taking a class on the Neuroscience of Drug Abuse, and am doing my directed research in Dr. Mark Thomas' lab, where we primarily study plasticity in the Nucleus Accumbens. Don't worry, some day I'll get around to explaining to you exactly what that means. I think cognitive psychology sounds really neat. My long term plans are to go to graduate school for my Ph.D. and go into research.

This blog exists for a variety of reasons:

First and foremost, I love neuroscience. I love brains, I love neurons, I think glia are quite awesome. So this is, in part, an attempt to reserve some time in the day for me to think about neuroscience in an enjoyable context, rather than just the daily grind contexts of "I need to memorize this NOW or I'll look like a total dumbass in that test/discussion/lab meeting." And also, I'd like to spread a little of that love of neuroscience to the masses, if I possibly can.

Secondly, I want some practice writing about neuroscience. I spend a lot of time complaining about the arcane and impenetrable manner in which scientific articles tend to be written. So this is a bit of an attempt to put my money where my mouth is, and try and figure out how to explain the bleeding edge of the discipline to a casual observer.

So what can you expect out of this?
I'm not quite sure. I'm going to aim for posting at least five times a week, hopefully on each weekday. But I have to be honest and acknowledge that I'm a senior in a very hard discipline, and may not have a lot of time on my hands. So we'll see how it goes. A lot of posting will probably end up being regurgitations of some of my course material, just so I can try to digest it or use it as a tool for enlightening. Since I work in a lab studying drug addiction and am taking a course on the Neuroscience of Drug Abuse this semester, I imagine I should be able to keep it interesting for a certain demographic. Also, although most points will be brain-oriented (hopefully), there will be more than a healthy helping of whatever catches my eye, largely discussions of biology-oriented news and whatnot.

I'm also going to try and introduce the audience to the fundamentals of neuroscience over time, and also work a bit through how neuroscience is studied in the real world. Also expect to find the occasional review of a journal article that I may just happen to have to present in class the next week or something.

It sounds a bit dry when I write it all out like this, but trust me: it'll be fun. You'll love it.

A few caveats:
1. Man is mortal, and I'm a man. It seems like most of the science blogs around are either written by professionals, Ph.D.s, or at least people working towards their doctorate. I am none of those things (yet). So if you catch me when I inevitably screw up, please let me know. I may make some desperate attempt to cover it up and save face, but hopefully I'll just politely thank you and fix my errors.

2. Neuroscience is a high-level biological science. As such, it is frequently dependent on animal models of a behavior or trait being studied. Two examples: last semester, one of my courses involved a survival surgery performed on a rat in which we injected fluorescent dyes into its brain. We then sacrificed it a week later, before cutting its brain into sections. One of my main responsibilities in the lab I'm doing my directed research in is to perform experiments involving morphine addiction in rats. Yes, this involves shooting rats up with morphine and doing bizarre things to them. If this is the sort of stuff that disturbs you, I'm sorry but it will be talked about here. I will do the best I can to make sure the viewing of photos and discussions on this topic is optional, so that you can frequent the site without accidentally seeing something that makes you cry like a baby. If I screw up, I apologize in advance.

3. That thing about animal models? Now, obviously animal models wouldn't be useful if we didn't have some reason to believe that animals usefully modelled humans in certain respects. Like, say, there was some sort of evidence of a common descent. You know, perhaps that we had evolved from a common ancestor? Yeah, that. Some professors like to open the first semester of a biology class by stating that "in this class, evolution is considered a fact" or something along those lines. I'm going to one up:

A. Evolution is a fact. End of story.
B. On this blog, evolution shall be considered to be a law of nature when it comes to life forms. Like gravity for things with DNA.
C. We will not be having stupid arguments about creationism here. Just so you know. Intelligent, rational discussion allowed on both sides. But only I'm allowed to treat people like a total jerk, and I think you can guess which side of the debate I'll be entitled to go all jerky on.
D. Anyone who attempts to make fun of me for using the phrase, "go all jerky on" will be summarily crushed like an ant. The same goes for future liberties with the English language.

Any questions?


At 17 January, 2006 18:07, Anonymous bitwise said...

First post!

Some random links:

The bibliography for "Blink" is on-line here:

You can take the "implicit association test" online at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Paul Ekman, one of the researchers who "decoded" human expressions, has a home page here:

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