York hosts its first Neuroscience Research Day

The first cohort of students graduating from York’s Neuroscience Graduate Diploma Program will present their leading-edge research today as part of the University’s first Neuroscience Research Day. The presentations will take place from 9am to 3:30pm in 163 Behavioural Sciences Building on York’s Keele campus.

Fifteen students will offer summaries of their research. The students come to the program from different backgrounds, including computer science, psychology, biology, and kinesiology & health science.

"This day marks the culmination of two years of intense neuroscience studies for our first group of students," says Professor Doug Crawford (left), Canada Research Chair in Visuomotor Neuroscience and the program’s coordinator. "They are a wonderful group and I am extremely proud of them"

Today’s presentations cover a wide range of approaches to neuroscience, ranging from research on molecular and cellular mechanisms in nerve cells and the relationship between the elements of neural systems, to the study of behaviour of whole organisms.

Psychology Professors Shayna Rosenbaum and Kari Hoffman have been hard at work coordinating the Neuroscience Research Day. “We began a neuroscience graduate diploma program at York in 2008. It combines the interests of the psychology, biology, and kinesiology & health sciences program,” says Rosenbaum. “This is the end of the second year of the program, which is a two-year consecutive program that is done in conjunction with the graduate students’ home department and their degree. [They are given a diploma in addition to their degree.] While the Neuroscience Research Day program is focused on the students, the event is also a celebration of the wide range of research interests among our neuroscience research faculty.”

Above: The class of 2010 and neuroscience faculty

The graduating students will be presenting a range of projects, says Rosenbaum, that draw on different methodologies. Some students will be showcasing work done using a molecular approach, while others will be presenting research that looks at neuroscience from a systems focus. Other students, says Rosenbaum, have relied on neuroimaging methods and some have done their research with patient populations. The breadth of projects that will be presented during the research day, says Rosenbaum, mirrors the program faculty’s multidisciplinary approach to neuroscience.

Left: Shayna Rosenbaum

The following is a snapshot of some of the 15 research projects that will be presented today: 

David Cappadocia (BSc Spec. Hons. ’08), is a second-year master’s student working with Crawford. Cappadocia will present on his research into how the brain remembers different features of an object, so that when it is time to act on the object, it can be discriminated from other similar objects.

Caitlin Mullin (MSc ’08), a PhD student, is studying how different parts of the brain form representations of the visual world around us. Mullin is using transcranial magnetic stimulation to apply a brief magnetic pulse to a specific part of the brain. This temporarily deactivates the brain region, allowing Mullin to determine how it functions. Mullin is supervised by York psychology Professor Jennifer Steeves.

PhD student Krista Kelly will present her research that looks into the effects of losing one eye early in life. Specifically, Kelly is researching how that loss affects brain organization and visual ability. Working under the supervision of Steeves, Kelly is using functional brain imaging to correlate findings with behavioural measures of performance. 

Master’s students Javaneh Tamiji (BSc Spec. Hons. ’08) and Shannon Lozinsky are working with kinesiology Professor Dorota Crawford. They will present their research on the causes of autism, a disorder of the brain. Using state-of-the-art equipment funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Tamiji and Lozinsky are investigating how environmental agents, such as drugs taken during early pregnancy, affect function and communication of cells in the brain. The goal of their project is to achieve a better understanding of what is different or missing in the brains of individuals with autism.

York PhD student Debi Stransky (BSc Spec. Hons. ’06, MSc ’08) is investigating stereoscopic depth perception across a large range of depth offsets under the supervision of York psychology Professor Laurie Wilcox. There is convincing evidence that there is a separate depth processing mechanism for images that cannot be fused into a single percept. Stransky is determining the quality of depth perceived from such stimuli and if these percepts are subserved from distinct neural mechanisms. Her work is funded by a postgraduate fellowship from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). 

York PhD student Inna Tsirlin (BSc Spec. Hons. ’04, MSc ’06) is studying depth perceptions from monocular occlusions. These are regions in a scene that are visible to one eye, but not to the other because they are occluded, for instance by objects in the foreground. For many years this information was considered noise. Tsirlin’s work has shown that monocular occlusions help define the boundaries between objects and backgrounds, and can even provide quantitative depth information. Tsirlin is working under the supervision of Wilcox and her work is funded by a postgraduate fellowship from NSERC. 

Left: Kari Hoffman

PhD student Stephanie Hornyak, who specializes in clinical neuropsychology, is investigating how brain regions communicate with each other to support spatial memory of well-known environments learned long ago. Under the supervision of York psychology Professor Shayna Rosenbaum, she has used an innovative method of combining functional MRI with multivariate statistics, which will help predict how brain networks may break down in patients who suffer from spatial disorientation.

York master’s student Adrian Bartlett (BA Spec. Hons. ’08) is studying how the eye movements we use to scan the environment may shape the neural basis of object recognition. Using spectral analysis of neuronal population activity, his research has revealed that eye movements help coordinate the activity of neurons, leading to a stronger, more efficient code of what we’re viewing, Bartlett is the recipient of an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship and is supervised by psychology Professor Kari Hoffman.

“All the research being presented is very exciting and it is also an important year because York University has acquired functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology,” says Rosenbaum. “The day also offers students another forum for networking and will help them build future collaborations.”

Everyone in the University community is invited to attend the presentations. The deans of the Faculties of Health, Science& Engineering and Graduate Studies will also give presentations.  

For more information, visit the Neuroscience Graduate Diploma Web site. 

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor