Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hello from Liza

I suppose it is my turn to introduce myself briefly. I am Liza Litvina, coming from Wesleyan University in the US, where I major in Neuroscience&Behavior and Science in Society. I arrived in Switzerland two and a half weeks ago to begin working in the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience (under the direction of Prof. Blanke) as part of the Summer Program in the School of Life Sciences at EPFL in (near?) Lausanne. I will learn and play here until the end of August. While normally I work on a mouse model of epilepsy, this summer I am trying out the other side of neuroscience by working on a project about gut interoception (conscious awareness of the stomach, or the possibility thereof) headed by a postdoc Dr. Ionta, my supervisor. This work is actually not the central theme of what regularly goes on in the Blanke lab. They are more focused on the somatic aspects of consciousness, dissociating different senses to probe consciousness, I suppose; the stomach work is the start of a visceral complement to this work. So far I have been recruiting and running subjects, spending the rest of my time reading. We are using EEG to record brain activity during the experiment and EGG (…gastro…) for stomach activity—and while I have a vague idea of what the EEG records, the way it is interpreted is a mystery to me to this moment (having a better physics background would help, I think). I’ve also been shown how some of the analysis is done, but this is another thing that is, at this point, out of my mental grasp as far as details go. It’s quite interesting though, and the background theory about the role of visceral afferent pathways in the formation of emotion/subjective self is exciting to think about. The lab appears to be pretty laid-back, but then again, it is summer. I imagine working is a little more hectic during the school year when all members are around and lots of students are willing to be subjects. The interactions I’ve had with my P.I. have been entirely positive (I’m impressed that he found time to talk to me through some of the background and framework for this project).

My stay has been pretty great so far. I arrived here a few days before the other students in the program, and got a jump on figuring out the city, transportation, food, etc.. I live very near campus in student housing with people who normally study here (and are not away for vacation, on and off), which is great from several perspectives… So far Switzerland, its people, its labs, and my fellow visiting students have all been friendly and welcoming. It’s great to interact with so many intelligent people from different backgrounds, countries, languages (I envy the languages). Having acquired a demi-tarif card, I am not working hard to make its price worthwhile by taking the train whenever wherever possible. Today, for example, I did a marathon through Fribourg, Neuchatel, and Yverdon-les-Bains—a fact I will use to excuse the rough nature of this particular entry.

More in the future, including pictures.

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