Thinking About the Brain

Distinguished Professor of Psychology Jenny Saffran works to better understand how children acquire language. In the Infant Learning Lab, Professor Saffran and her team study how language learning typically unfolds, and how to help infants for whom language acquisition is especially challenging. A better understanding of the brain is one of the first steps to developing interventions for neurological disorders in people of all ages.

Professor Saffran’s research dovetails with that of many other faculty across the College of Letters & Science who seek to understand the brain and its highly complex functions. A network of researchers are confronting the many unknowns about how the brain actually works.

About two million individuals sustain traumatic brain injuries each year in the United States. The neuroscience of cognition and communication can help us better understand and assess traumas and identify appropriate treatments. In the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Professor Lyn Turkstra and her lab are seeking to identify effective strategies for assessment and treatment for adolescents and adults impacted by trauma or neurological disorders like tumors or strokes.

Animals may also help us understand the brain. A team of zoologists, including Professor Marc Wolman, is studying how the brain controls behavior. Using zebrafish, they hope to pinpoint the genetic mechanisms underlying learning. This may lead to breakthroughs with Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and other neurological disorders.

Chemistry Professor Randall Goldsmith, a recipient of the 2015 New Investigator Award from the Alzheimer’s Association, is developing new research techniques that will better reveal the behavior and properties of chemical systems like those implicated in Alzheimer’s.

The pioneering work of these researchers and many more across the college is providing clues that could lead to tremendous scientific breakthroughs in disease studies and various other fields.