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Department of Physics

The Hofstadter Memorial Lectures

Monday, April 7, 2008

Professor Larry F. Abbott
2008 Robert Hofstadter Memorial Lecturer

William R. Hewlett Teaching Center at the Science and Engineering Quad (TCSEQ)
370 Serra Mall, Stanford University

We are pleased to announce that the annual Robert Hofstadter Memorial Lectures will be given this year by Larry F. Abbott, the William Bloor Professor of Theoretical Neuroscience and co-director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University. Professor Abbott is a physicist-turned-biologist who uses mathematical modeling to study the neural networks that are responsible for our actions and behaviors.  His thesis work at Brandeis University was in the area of theoretical elementary particle physics, culminating in a PhD in 1977.  He then worked in theoretical particle physics at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and, later, at CERN, the European center for particle physics research.  He became an assistant professor in the physics department at Brandeis in 1979, received tenure in 1982, and became a full professor of physics in 1988.  Abbott began his transition to neuroscience research in 1989 and moved to the Biology Department at Brandeis in 1993.  From 1994-2005, he was the co-director of the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Brandeis.  In 2005, Abbott joined the faculty of Columbia University where his research involves using analytic techniques and computer simulation to study the electrical characteristics of single neurons, to determine how neurons interact to produce functioning neural circuits, and to investigate how large populations of neurons represent, store, and process information.

The Hofstadter lectures are scheduled for Monday, April 7, 2008 (an evening public lecture at 8:00 PM) and Tuesday, April 8 (an afternoon colloquium at 4:15 PM).  Both lectures will be held at Stanford University, and we hope that you will plan to attend.

Evening Public Lecture (8:00 PM on Monday, April 7, 2008)
Hewlett Bldg., Rm. 200

"Remembering the Future, Predicting the Past"

An important function of memory is to provide information for predicting the future outcomes of our actions.  At a basic cellular level, neural circuits are capable of extracting causal links and generating activity that is predictive of future events.  How do low-level cellular processes work together to store, retain and recall memories, allowing us to remember and predict?  These questions are the focus of intense experimental and theoretical research.  I will review recent results and discuss a number of ideas illustrated by computer simulations of memory function and prediction.
Afternoon Colloquium (4:15 PM on Tuesday, April 8, 2008)
Hewlett Bldg., Rm. 201

"Who's Afraid of Chaotic Networks? Models of Sensory and Motor Processing
in the Face of Spontaneous Neuronal Activity"

Large, strongly coupled neural networks tend to produce chaotic spontaneous activity.  This might appear to make them unsuitable for generating reliable sensory responses or repeatable motor patterns.  However, this is not the case.  Inputs can induce a phase transition, leading to responses uncontaminated by chaotic "noise".  Likewise, appropriately trained feedback units can control the chaos, resulting in a wide variety of repeatable output patterns.  These issues will be discussed accompanied by examples and demonstrations.

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Robert Hofstadter, winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize, was one of the principal scientists who developed the Compton Observatory. 

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