Award-winning, New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer will speak Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Nebraska Union auditorium with a speech titled “Journey to the Center of the Brain.”
The event is free for UNL students with an NCard and costs $5 for faculty, staff and the public.
“Our brains are the foundation for who we are—they store our memories, give rise to our emotions and enable us to look to the future,” said Tanner McKerlie, Diversity/Education chair for the University Program Council. “But our brains remain terra incognita, an inner continent that remains barely explored.”
McKerlie said the talk comes at an opportune time because of developments in brain mapping, putting together a picture of the organ’s 80 billion neurons with trillions of connections to each other. The mapping has enabled scientists to do things like implant electrodes in the brain in order to help people with Parkinson’s regain their ability to walk. It has also helped give paralyzed people the power to control computers, McKerlie said.
Zimmer has spoken at universities, festivals, museums and medical schools and has also been on radio programs such as “Radiolab” and “This American Life.” This year, he won the Stephen Jay Gould Prize, awarded annually by the Society for the Study of Evolution to recognize individuals whose sustained efforts have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science.
Zimmer was selected to come to UNL as a result of UPC’s semiannual event selection. For the Diversity/Education lineup, UPC has brought together several speakers on serious topics, such as activist Bree Newsome, who scaled a flagpole in front of the South Carolina State House and removed the Confederate battle flag, and Neil Hilborn, a renowned slam poet who will be addressing his struggles with mental illness. With Zimmer, UPC wanted to pick a speaker who was educational, but knowledgeable in an area the organization hadn’t touched with one of its other events, McKerlie said.
“Carl filled the slot perfectly,” McKerlie said.
McKerlie said UNL students should be interested in the event because it’s a chance to learn about a fascinating and continually evolving field of science. He said the event holds value for everyone, whether they are students in a science field, are interested in the science of the brain or just want to learn something new.
Over the past 18 years, Zimmer has given speeches all over the country. This year he has traveled to 11 states, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Alabama, New Jersey Institute of Technology and many others to speak.
“I’m most excited about reaching an audience that we haven’t reached in years,” McKerlie said. “With Diversity/Education events, we try to appeal to as many different interests and issues as possible, and this event is more scientific than any event we’ve had in the past few years.”
McKerlie said he hopes this event shows people that UPC continually strives to not only host concerts, but also to educate people both on social issues and things like the science of the brain.
“Hopefully this will get students interested in our other programming events and our operations as a whole,” he said.