UCSB’s Kavli Institute Offers Talks on Neuroscience, Physics, and Even Music


Mimi Liu
Staff Writer

The University of California, Santa Barbara’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) regularly holds a variety of programs and public talks, and it is currently hosting a program titled “Neurophysics of Space, Time, and Learning.” The program, which runs from Jan. 27 to March 7, brings together leading scientists to discuss their findings.

“All events occur in space and time. How are space and time perceived by the brain? What biophysical and cellular mechanisms govern the formation of these neural representations? How does behavior shape the neural representation of space-time?” the webpage for the program asks.

Research has suggested that space perception is a result of two different brain regions communicating with each other: the neocortex and the hippocampus. The neocortex sends outside stimulus to the hippocampus, which creates associations between the information; during sleep, the hippocampus then sends the learned information back to the neocortex for long-term storage, a process called consolidation. Measuring neuron activity has also indicated that the brain behaves as a two-state system during sleep, which could contribute to long-term learning and memory processes. However, it is not entirely clear how spatial maps are created and modified.

“Thus, over the past decade, advances in diverse fields…have resulted in rapid progress in the field of Neurophysics of learning and neural representation of space and time,” states the program’s official description. “The meeting will bring together experts from these diverse fields and generate a much needed dialogue between them which would enable a coordinated evolution of the fields.”

About 80 speakers, including UCSB scientists, have prepared presentations as part of this program. As well, a variety of experts from UC Los Angeles, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and California Institute of Technology are also scheduled to give talks, among many others.

Presentation topics include “Computing Time: Short-Term Plasticity, Neural Dynamics, Chaos, and Dynamic Attractors,” “Sleep and Memory in the Human Brain,” and “Sequential Event Memory Formation and Reactivation in the Hippocampus and Beyond.” Almost all presentations are available in podcast, audio, or video format online for anyone interested.

Other current and upcoming programs include “Active Matter: Cytoskeleton, Cells, Tissues and Flocks” and  “New Methods in Nonperturbative Quantum Field Theory.”

Additionally, KITP organizes public talks, free for anyone on campus who is interested. On Feb. 19, “Rhythms & Algorithms: Physics and Music,” will be taking place, presented by speaker Theo Geisel.

“Even the best musicians do not play rhythms with perfect precision. Slight deviations from an ideal beat pattern are a fundamental characteristic of music played by humans,” the official description reads. “In this public lecture, using techniques from statistical physics and chaos theory, Prof. Geisel will discuss the laws underlying rhythmic fluctuations and their role in musical perception.”

Geisel, a musician himself, will use musical examples in his presentation such as J. S. Bach’s “The Art of Fugue” to discuss music and its associations to information processing in the brain.

“One application of these findings is a ‘humanizing algorithm’, which allows computer-performed music to sound more human,” the description concludes.

Doctor Geisel is currently the managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, and he founded the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Göttingen, Germany. He was awarded the Leibniz Prize in 1994, and recognized with the Gentner-Kastler Prize in 2009.

“[He is] well known for his research on nonlinear and chaotic systems, [and] he has worked in fields that include quantum chaos, the spread of epidemics, and theoretical brain research,” states his official program introduction.

“Rhythms & Algorithms: Physics and Music” will commence at 8 p.m. on Feb. 19, and reserved seats will be held until 7:50 p.m.