Why I want to do, what I want to do

By Natalie Gottlieb

As you are sitting down and taking a few minutes to read this, there is a countless number of neurons firing in your brain. You as a person can be broken down into a binary occurrence in the action potentials that make up your brain and body: fire or don’t fire. This is the most baffling thing in the world to me.

My interest in neuroscience began long before I knew what neuroscience was. When I was young I asked, Who are we? Why are we here? How are we living? What does it mean to be alive?

Already, the questions that would eventually lead me to a research thesis were bubbling in my mind. When I was a four year old, I didn’t know neuroscience and so I didn’t ask the same kinds of specific questions I do now; now my questions are based on scientific findings. But they are still huge questions: how does everything we know, love, think, feel, break down into that action potential binary? I am only one person and will not figure out the mystery of consciousness on my own, so I focus on a few research topics, things that I particularly enjoy, things that have really caught my attention during these past few years of school. Mainly, these are focused on functional aspects of the medial temporal lobe, especially in regard to memory. And in particular, my love of neuroscience has found a home in the hippocampus. BrainImage_Natalie

In the summer after my U2 year, I began working on a number of studies that related to the hippocampus, and and in U3 began manually segmenting hippocampi for volume analysis. After many hours of looking at MRI after MRI, you might think I would get sick of the hippocampus. However, it turned out to be the exact opposite – over time I have seemed to only  fall more  in love with the seahorse-shaped structure, and I want to know everything I can about it.

I can recognize all the different structural boundaries, the alvius, the subiculum, the wall of the lateral ventricles. I know all the minute details and differences between each and every individual. For my future research, beyond McGill, I’d like to focus on the functional aspects of the structure. I want to find out as much as I can about it, and I want to see how the brain behaves as a whole. My goal is to learn as much as I can about the interplay of the structures of the brain, concentrating on the medial temporal lobe.

Of course, the hippocampus has a variety of roles – so why am I so drawn to memory? Memory is its main function, and it is so necessary and relevant to so many clinical complications as well, such as Alzheimer’s. Memory is a fascinating ability that most of us take for granted on a daily basis.  Who are we if we lose all of our autobiographical memories? Am I still me even if I have no idea of what I am, or what me was? The amount a person can remember in their lifetime is incredible. I want to know the most intricate workings of memory, to be able to appreciate just what a magnificent feat remembering really is. I want to know not just how those action potentials make us move, make us read, but how they make us who we are, and help us recall who we’ve been.

Natalie is a U4 Psychology student, and MSURJ co-Editor in Chief

(Photo: Perks of being an undergrad in the lab: get to be the pretend subject when testing out protocols! Above, Natalie’s brain scan from when her lab was piloting a new study)

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