The Image: "Neuron"
This is an image of a neuron in the mouse brain taken with a fluorescent microscope. A neurotropic virus was used to express a green fluorescent protein in this cell, resulting in complete labeling of the neuron's anatomy. Tiny spines along the large dendrites extending rom the cell body are the sites of synapses, where information from other neurons is transmitted to this particular cell.
There are additional neuronal processes visible in the background, including red dendrites from a different labeled neuron (whose cell body is not visible here), as well as faint, thin green axons, which provide the output from a neuron by relaying electrical signals to cause release of chemical transmitters at the synapse, where the axon contacts neighboring dendrites. Individual neurons have tens of thousands of synapses, meaning that they connect to and receive input from thousands of other neurons in the brain. The blue dots are labeled nuclei of all other neurons in the region.
All of our memories, hopes, fears and dreams are stored in the connections between neurons in the brain. Each neuron can have tens of thousands of connections with other neurons. The long processes extending from the cell body of the neuron, called dendrites, are the sites of synapses, where information from one neuron is communicated to the next. As we move through the world, our experience cause changes in the structures of these synapses, shaping the vast network of neurons in the brain to form a pattern of connections that is unique to each individual.
Marina Garrett received a B.S. in Physiology and Neuroscience and Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California San Diego. Her thesis work focused on characterizing the function and connectivity of the mouse visual cortex. During her time at UCSD she also explored the world of art and craft through classes including glass blowing, jewelry making, and black and white print photography. She found that art and science were synergistic, both involving creativity, imagination, experimentation, and observation. Marina currently works at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, WA and is pursing a project that aims to understand how learning and experience shape the network activity of cortical neurons.
Marina currently works at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, WA and is pursing a project that aims to understand how learning and experience shape the network activity of cortical neurons.
Why did you decide to pursue neuroscience?
I was inspired to pursue neuroscience after taking a course on the philosophy of knowledge in her first year of college. I was fascinated by questions of how we come to know, understand, and perceive our external reality, and decided that studying the circuitry of the mind was the best way to find answers to some of the biggest mysteries of life.
What are some ways in which studying the brain have changed the way you behave or interact with the world?
The most important lesson I have learned in neuroscience is that the connections between neurons in your brain are constantly changing. Every thought, decision, and action we take has an effect on the structure of our brains. The experiences people have, and the memories they form determine who they are, how they relate to others, and why they do the things they do. All of this is because of the plastic and ever changing nature of neural connections. To me, this demonstrates the primary importance of learning - that practice and repeated experience can literally shape who you are, and positive thinking - that you can create your own reality. We all have the power to control our minds, our futures, and the world around us by guiding the content of our thoughts. This is epitomized by the quote: "The mind is everything. What you think, you become". I believe that if all people lived by this saying and chose to focus their thoughts on creating positive change for themselves and others, the world would be a better place.
Any advice for aspiring scientists that you wish someone had shared with you?
Working on a question you feel passionate about is important, but not as important as working in a supportive environment that fosters trust, respect and creativity. Every developing scientist needs an adviser and a community in which to learn and do research. These people can become like family and shape the way you do science and the way think about the world. Choose them wisely.