Dr Donald Wilson

Donald Wilson is a research professor at the Departments of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Physiology and Neuroscience, and a Senior Research Scientist at the Emotional Brain Institute Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research. His current research focuses on how the mammalian brain processes and remembers information. As a model system he and his team focus on rodent (rat and mice) discrimination and memory for odors. His TED talk 'Learning to smell' will further elaborate on this research. The evolutionarily oldest sense is the ability to detect and discriminate chemicals around you. Some of those chemicals are small and float in the air and we call those smells. The chemicals come from plants and animals and bacteria and elsewhere, and can provide information about what to eat, what to avoid so as not to be eaten, and with whom to mate. How do we smell? How does our brain change chemicals inhaled up our nose into brie, chardonnay or dirty diaper? The task is made more complex by the fact that most smells we experience are not due to a single type of molecule, but are rather the result of complex mixtures of many types of molecules that our brain merges into a single percept, much like the merging of blue and yellow pigments make green. Wilson will describe how the brain performs the remarkable feat of creating the aroma of coffee and how memory plays an important role in this process. This reliance on memory may be the reason our sense of smell is so sensitive to brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.