By Pranali Dalvi

Human brain scan, in X-rays. Credit:

The complexity of the brain can be mind-boggling. After all, how can a jelly-like, three-pound mass of fatty tissue and protein give us the capacity for language, imagination and problem solving, while simultaneously coordinating movement and controlling vital processes such as breathing and digestion?

Duke’s neuroscience community came together on Thursday, Jan. 19 to marvel at the brain during the inaugural event of the Duke Consortium of Neuroscience Graduate Programs: Brainnaroo!

Held in the LSRC Hall of Science, the event included everything from a student poster session to a forum on the “Neuroscience of Self.”

The goal of the forum was to have one topic and approach it with many different ideas, incorporating different departments and techniques,” said Hrishikesh Rao, a graduate student in biomedical engineering and a member of the Brainnaroo Planning Committee.

The unifying theme of the forum was “the self,” and graduate students tackled this concept from a biomedical engineering perspective all the way to a behavioral medicine perspective. Graduate student Rolando Estrada delineated ‘the self’ in computer science. “Computers can do tasks that previously only biological entities could do. For instance, a robot can recognize itself in a mirror,” he said.

Kurtis Gruters, a graduate student specializing in Systems and Integrative Neuroscience, posed the question “Is ‘the self’ a sensory illusion?” in his neural circuitry analysis, and Kristen Batich explained a pathologist’s view of losing ‘the self’ in a spectrum of dementia disorders.

In the true spirit of science, awards followed the presentations and were given for best talk and best layman’s title. Best in Show went to Tina Tognoni for the project, “Sex Differences in Hippocampal Neuronal Responses to Changes in Environmental Stimuli, or “Do male rats pay attention to detail?”