Speakers at Mudd: Neurobiologist Dr. Cori Bargmann

“I know what I want to do in life,” I texted a friend. “Neuroscience and I are going to be friends.”

Dr. Cori Bargmann, a neurobiologist, had just finished her lecture at the Shanahan Center Auditorium. In her seminar, titled “Genes, brains, and flexible behaviors: studying neural circuits across space and time,” Dr. Bargmann chronicled her research on the nervous system of a type of roundworm, C. Elegans.

While the other students around me took notes, I did not understand half of what Dr. Bargmann said. I had only taken half a year of biology in high school. Still, I recognized some of the chemical structures, the colorful diagrams, outliers in the data, and a few familiar words — oxytocin, synapses.

Feeling out of place only made me want to learn more.

The brain is an exquisite, mysterious machine. I love meditating because it helps me pay attention to how it works, and I start to befriend my brain. Dr. Bargmann seemed to suggest another way for me to get closer to my brain: through chemistry, biology, computer science, and math.

Listening to Dr. Bargmann, I was reminded of the night before, when I had studied for a Chemistry midterm with a friend. We had redone all of our practice sets, and I genuinely had fun puzzling through the problems together with him. From the auditorium seat, I understood that my assignments at Harvey Mudd prepared me for the type of work Dr. Bargmann was doing. Neuroscience seemed suddenly accessible to me.

To close off, I want to leave you with an excerpt of a poem (#538) by Emily Dickinson, which first sparked my interest in brains in high school.

The Brain is deeper than the sea –
For – hold them – Blue to Blue –
The one the other will absorb –
As Sponges – Buckets – do

If I could choose what I love the most about college, it would be the speakers at the 5C’s. In my next blog post, I would love to tell you about Trevor Paglen, a McArthur Genius Fellow who makes art with sculpture, painting, and engineering. For now, I am beyond excited to register for Introduction to Cognitive Science in the Spring Semester!