Brain Imaging Center hosts symposium

by Cathy Wu | 10/27/06 5:00am

The Brain Imaging Center hosted a day-long event Thursday highlighting the use of neuroimaging equipment at Dartmouth in faculty and graduate student research. The event, which kicked off a series of presentations on the subject, included talks by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center professionals and Dartmouth professors as well as posters detailing different aspects of graduate-level research.

The brainchild of psychology professor John Van Horn, the public presentation aimed to show the importance of brain imaging technology across the academic spectrum and to initiate exchange between different facilities at the College.

"There's not enough cross-talk between the different departments," said George Wolford, acting director of the Dartmouth Brain Imaging Center. "The primary goal for today was to have all these people from different venues to present their research."

Brain imaging technology was fairly recently introduced to Dartmouth, which is the first nonmedical, non-hospital facility to have a Magnetic Resonance Imagining scanner, Van Horn said. Since the department of psychological and brain studies received its first MRI scanner in 2000 under the sponsorship of the College, it has upgraded to a newer version of the machine, sparking the idea for the event.

"It dawned on us that some neuro-energy symposium to feature brain imaging would be well-timed and way over due," Van Horn said. Undergraduate students involved in research also have access to the technology despite not having seniority status, which typically does not take place at other institutions. Access to MRIs early in their academic experiences has helped students currently working and doing research in the field, Van Horn said.

"It's a very precious resource to give undergraduates the opportunity to experience it," Van Horn said. "Many other students have gone on to fabulous programs, where as they might [instead] have had to go do some sort of apprenticeship beforehand."

Leah Somerville, a fourth-year published graduate student, used the fMRI scanner to document neural activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain attributed to processing emotional memory.

"I've used the fMRI scanner a lot and they've [at the Brain Imaging Center] treated me very well," Somerville said.

Somerville said she attended the event as a way for her to get out of her office and to learn about other research.

"Neuroimaging has changed the psychology department fairly dramatically," Wolford said. "We're the first psychology department to have our own research magnet in the whole planet. That changes things a lot."

Despite the participation of faculty, graduate researchers and interested community members, there was a dearth of undergraduate students at the event.

"I'm a little bit concerned [about the lack of undergraduate attendance]," Van Horn said. "I would love to see that increase."

Whether or not presentations on research using brain imaging technology will continue to be an annual event is still up in the air. Van Horn is eager to see the event continue and hopes that the event location will rotate between DHMC and the College.