Archived entries for NSI

i got a little more comfortable…

…with the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. (I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to post about it. Silly me.)

The drive from NSI down La Jolla Shores Dr. was a beautiful, winding journey, with a view of the ocean that I failed to capture on film but that is unlikely to leave my memory soon. Parking my (the Smith’s) Mustang under a palm tree and walking to a beach littered with surf boards and bonfires/cookouts embodied my most California-y experience here to date. Besides that traffic the other evening.

It was great to observe the various amalgamations of families and friends: those high school kids who I regrettably used to be (except they are much better off because their hangout is the beach), new parents introducing their child to the sea, that father who plays sports with the kids (in this case a lovely, portly, young dad who managed to turn soccer into a chase game, resulting in many a squeal from his daughters and nieces), and my favorite: countless duos of father-son surfers.

All that camaraderie warmed my heart but also made me feel pretty lonely, to be honest. I’ve been trekking to all these really great places that are relaxing when alone but they merit the company of someone close to you. On a scale of one to lonely, I was almost desperate enough to walk over to one of the cookouts and introduce my hungry self with the line, “Hi, I’m Genna. I’m new here. From Jersey. Not as bad as it seems. Anything you suggest I do in SD besides eat this hot dog and ear of corn?”

I withheld my urge and instead took to the sea again, this time motivated to take a memento or two. When I visited Torrey Pines Glider Port, I decided that I was going to collect something from each new place I visited this summer. Unfortunately for my luggage, this decision has amounted to a growing collection of (really sweet, neverbeforeseen) rocks. And one royal blue zipper pull that I almost threw back in the ocean until I realized that a seagull was probably going to eat it if I didn’t take it. And I kind of wanted it. And now I have it.

Oh, one more thing: after the beach, I finally went to an In-N-Out Burger! It didn’t quite live up to its name due to the length of the drive-thru line, but it surely lived up to its reputation. I got a Double-Double, Animal Style (on the secret menu), with a side of fries (ketchup too!) and chocolate shake. In retrospect, I really did not need that shake and I certainly did not need the ketchup for the fries. I said “Sure” when the cashier offered it to me because I am usually a fan of the condiment and always a fan of something to dip my fries in, but after employing the ketchup for its intended purpose, I realized that these fries were just too good to be tainted with Heinz. Away with the ketchup packets!

Excuse me while I ingest this bucket full of health.

One last thing: I’m going to include a song in this post that makes me feel better whenever I hear it, off an album that makes me feel better whenever I hear it. It is one of the only CDs from my adolescent period that I insist on keeping. I have kept a bunch of the music, but in terms of owning the physical compact disc, Bleed American is the only one that has persisted. Ladies and gentlemen, Jimmy Eat World’s “Sweetness.”

music and the mind

Have you ever heard of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra? Their website introduces them as a group that performs music solely on instruments made of vegetables, with “carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, leek-zucchini-vibrators [??], cucumberophones, and celery bongos.” Sometimes, they even include the noises of kitchen instruments.

Geez, I’m hungry. Good thing I’m going to Hillcrest Farmer’s Market after finishing this post!

Anyway, here is the cover of their album Automate, complete with my favorite vegetable, romanesco (fractal) broccoli. I’ve never eaten this cauliflower relative, but I have been known to call supermarkets when it is in season to see if it happens to be in stock.

Here are some of their instruments:

Cool! I was ignorant to the existence of this musical ensemble before finding a video of a talk by Dr. Patel called called “Music and the Mind.” It is part of a series available on YouTube called Grey Matters: From Molecules to Mind. Ani included the group as an example of how humans are constantly innovating new ways to explore as musical beings. This topic is one of the many interesting remarks made throughout the talk, and I wanted to write on some its highlights as a way to introduce formally the overarching topic that inspired my summer project.

Part IAn introduction

The video starts with an introduction from Dr. Ralph Greenspan of the Neurosciences Institute. He remarks that Ani is a clarinetist and a classical guitarist and that this musical background sparked his interest in the way the brain intersects with music. (I played clarinet and piano throughout my pre-collegiate education and attribute my interest in the field to this musical background!) Greenspan also notes how appropriate it is that, in light of this, Ani works at NSI, which is not only a premier research institution on brain science but also the home to a beautiful performing arts space that offers a plethora of performances throughout the year. Luckily for me, I get to benefit from both of these aspects of NSI, and of Dr. Patel!

Part IIA song is…

Patel’s talk begins with a quotation from Plato circa 400 B.C.: “Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inwards places of the soul…” He reflects that despite this early mention of the real impact that music can have on the individual, the field is only several decades old. He continues to explain some research with which I am vaguely familiar on the physiological manifestations of strong experiences with music, powered by the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus acumbens, brain areas involved in the reward circuit featuring the neurotransmitter dopamine. My Haverford adviser Marilyn Boltz showed me a journal article on this topic when I was planning the syllabus for a Hurford Humanities Center class I co-taught with Jane Holloway ’11 on film music. Ani was focusing on strong experiences with purely instrumental music that was not paired with lyrical or filmic stimuli.

More generally, it is important to consider why music neuroscience is an important field. How is research in the field able to contribute to a scientific understanding of brain mechanisms and humans as a species? Is it anything other than just really awesome? Yes, indeed! And Ani lists several compelling reasons why. He indicates the benefits of the fact that music engages many brain functions, including emotion, memory, learning & plasticity, pattern perception, imagery. Also, music and language are universal and unique to human beings.

You may be like, no, birds sing. Haven’t you heard of parrots? Or the lyrebird? But Ani addresses this point of controversy, pointing out that birdsong tends to be triggerd by hormonal and neuronal changes that happen at certain times of year and in certain contexts, mostly by males who have reached sexual maturity. Humans of both sexes, conversely, are musical from an early age.

It is important to understand how both humans and, for example, parrots are able to produce complex sound patterns based on auditory input, known as vocal learning. Ani explains that this phenomenon also exists in songbirds, hummingbirds, whales, dolphins, bats, and seals. He showed a video of a dancing parrot, and cited not only vocal learning capabilities but the existence of the basal ganglia as reasons why this parrot was able to synchronize its body movements to a beat. It is also true that species unable to vocally learn, such as our closest genetic relatives chimpanzees and bonobos, cannot move to a beat.

Part IIILife without music, or without language

Since there is no animal model, much of the research on music neuroscience has focused on individuals who are amusic, or those with problems with, for example, recognizing familiar tunes, spotting sour notes, or telling the difference between two tunes. (Ani provides these specific examples in this talk, citing the research of Isabelle Peretz.) These problems can range from melody perception/production, rhythm perception/production, and the emotional response to music, which has elucidated that the brain has no specific musical center. This was found by observing and studying two groups: amusics without aphasia (language loss), and aphasics without amusia. This talk introduced me to another cool musician, composer Vissorion Shebalin, who suffered several strokes and lost his ability to speak

Intrigued by these findings, Ani’s lab (circa the 90′s) was the first to use brain imaging to study the processing patterns of music and language in health patients without brain damage. Using musical and linguistic sentences with grammatical anomalies (a wrong, “sour” note, or an incorrect verb tense), they found that the brain responses to were nearly identical. It has also been shown that some areas of the brain deemed specific to language, such as Broca’s area, are activated by music. The connection between music and language in the brain described by these findings is bolstered by another finding that musical and linguistic grammar impairment is significantly correlated, with the severity of one predicting the severity of other depending on the degree of aphasia or amusia.

Part IVBabies

Of most relevance to the current project, Ani divulged that humans are the only species that use music to soothe their young. Lullabies are universal among humans, as is “parentese,” the sing-song-like speech that adults tend to use around children. This summer’s research aims to continue to explore the merits of these behaviors on the health of newborns, in particular the cardiac surgery recoverees.

this time tomorrow, it’ll be three hours earlier

What a week! Preparing for my departure has been a full-time job, especially considering the added neuroticism of an individual who has ne’er-before traveled by air. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but I’m about to embark on my first adventure in the sky. Here are some thematically-appropriate tunes, even though I already booked my flight and I’m not going over the sea.

I’ve been shopping to smarten up/California-ize my wardrobe and gathering all of the last minute necessities that have spent a little too long simmering on the back burner. I just finished packing my carry-on, which barely falls under the limit in both weight and size, and my personal item, a stuffed-to-the-brim backpack complete with airplane snacks and enough reading material for a time period equivalent to the length of my flight cubed.

Tomorrow, the Cherichello clan is getting up bright and early to have a family breakfast before Dad has to go to work and my brother (Johnny) has to set off to school. Mom is taking the day off to take me to the airport, which I greatly appreciate.

Anyway, on a note directly relevant to the project, I received an e-mail about a required Biomedical Ethics training course that I had to take online due to my involvement with this summer’s music therapy research with human subjects. This course, mandated by the UCSD Institutional Review Board (IRB), ended up taking me longer than expected because I became fascinated with the array of completely unethical studies throughout history that led to today’s cautionary procedures. One study that sticks out for quite a number of scientific errors intended to determine whether sleeping or being physically active allowed for more digestion. The researcher fed two prisoners a large amount of food, then sent one to bed and one to engage in vigorous physical activity. Going through the lessons and quizzes of this course brought me back to this semester’s Experimental Methods and Statistics (colloquially, “Psych Stat”) at Haverford, as they mark one of the many prerequisites to my first engagement with IRB-approved research as a role other than “participant.” Although I have conducted two group studies at school, both have been for lab classes and thus have not gone through the IRB. I feel so legit!

To further build on this legitimacy, I’m continuing my progress with Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and Music Therapy for Premature Infants (I’ve yet to mention the second in any detail, but that post is soon to come). Both have incited in me countless a-ha moments, whether they regard my own experience as a stressed person, my (limited, but growing) knowledge of infant development, or the power of music. If I were already in SD,  it would be merely 12:30 a.m. and my eyes would not be feeling the wee-hours-burn, so this post would include some of the content of these “a-has,” but for now, they must wait.

One last exiting update is that I meet Dr. Patel for the first time over lunch at the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) on Tuesday at noon, after which we are both heading over to Rady Children’s Hospital for the first meeting with Dr. Knight. I have training at the hospital during the next few mornings and will my afternoons at NSI.

In sum: sleep, family breakfast, Newark airport, California by 4:30 (7:30…), readreadread, acclimation. I can’t believe this thing that I’ve been talking about for so long and thinking about for even longer is happening. Wish me luck!

Note: Posts following this one should be full of photographs, pending the purchase of batteries for my camera.



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