UCSB Hosts First Kavli BRAIN Showcase

Illustration by Shiloh Kluding | Staff Illustrator

Jessica Gang
Opinions Editor

UC Santa Barbara hosted its first Kavli BRAIN showcase from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 18 at the Loma Pelona Center. The showcase was organized to connect brain researchers across various disciplines and highlighted the wide range of brain-related research already being conducted across departments.

The event was co-sponsored by the UCSB Brain Initiative, the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, the Neuroscience Research Institute, and the Kavli Foundation, and was organized by the SAGE Junior Fellows. It featured a series of short “flashtalks” by graduate students, faculty, and postdocs, followed by a special SAGE Center lecture given by Professor Charles Spence and Chef Joseph Youssef.

After the lecture, there was a reception that allowed members of the brain science community to connect with each other and discuss their thoughts on the research findings that were presented. According to the showcase’s organizers, the reception was designed to be a genesis for potential collaborations.

Despite the plethora of engaging research that was presented, the talk that commanded the most attention was “The Gastrophysics Chef’s Table,” a SAGE Center lecture delivered by Dr. Charles Spence, Fellow of Somerville College at the University of Oxford, and Chef Jozef Youssef, co-founder of Kitchen Theory.

Kitchen Theory is a project founded by Youssef that works in collaboration with Spence and his team of researchers, operating as a gastronomy experience design lab where experimental projects such as creating ambiance during seafood meals by playing the sound of the sea in the background are explored.

Gastrophysics refers to the idea that eating experiences can be fully understood and enhanced by applying knowledge from chemistry and physics. As explained in their talk at the showcase, Spence and Youssef were inspired to use psychology in order to amplify the eating experiences of their customers. At the lecture, Spence, who is an experimental psychologist, claimed that indulging all of one’s senses is an essential part of fully enjoying one’s meal.

“Flavor is a construct of our minds,” said Spence during his lecture, emphasizing the importance of engaging all of the senses in dining experiences.

The lecture was fascinating in its own right, but was anchored by the rapport between Youssef and Spence. Their creative and professional relationship has spanned a decade and has contributed to an engaging camaraderie between them.

In addition to the talk given by Spence and Youssef, graduate students and postdocs presented short, three-minute “flashtalks” on their research. These short presentations allowed researchers to share their work with colleagues, professors, and other experts in brain science related fields who might be able to provide new insights on their work from their diverse disciplines.

One such presentation was given by Durafshan Syed, a neuroscience postdoc working in the Simpson Lab, who presented on the role of inhibition in action selection. Syed’s research focuses on how different types of neurons affect behavior.

“This event is a very good platform [for collaboration],” said Syed in an interview with The Bottom Line. “Instead of interacting only with the neuroscience community, I get to talk to people from other disciplines, which gives me a new perspective and opens up new pathways for collaboration.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the showcase was one of its biggest strengths. As demonstrated by “The Gastrophysics Chef’s Table” and the flashtalks, the Kavli Institute is exploring the future of brain-related research as a collaboration between many different fields, ideas, and people.