The Virginia Tech College of Science brings its 2017 J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series to a close Sept. 26 with neuroscientist J. David Sweatt, of Vanderbilt University.

Sweatt is chairman and professor of Vanderbilt’s Department of Pharmacology, where he holds the Allan D. Bass Chair of Pharmacology. There, Sweatt studies biochemical mechanisms of learning and memory, most recently focusing on epigenetic mechanisms in memory formation. His appearance at Virginia Tech is co-sponsored by School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech, part of the College of Science. 

Sweatt's research investigates mechanisms of learning and memory disorders, such as intellectual disabilities, Alzheimer's disease, and aging-related memory dysfunction. He also brings art, specifically painting, into his research of contemporary biomedicine. In 2009 he published a textbook, "Mechanisms of Memory," which features original paintings and describes current models for the molecular and cellular basis of memory formation.

“All our creativity, emotions, perceptions, memories, and beliefs arise from the coordinated action of the nerve cells that make up our central nervous system,” Sweatt wrote in describing his talk, titled, “An artful look into genes and memory.” During his talk, Sweatt will discuss a newer set of paintings along with scientific findings published in a book he co-edited, "Epigenetic Regulation in the Nervous System." The paintings serve as artistic interpretation of the scientific content of each chapter within the book.

Sweatt’s talk takes place at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Holtzman Assembly Hall at the Holtzman Alumni Center on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. The event is free and open to the public. A public meet-and-greet reception with Sweatt will be held before the talk, beginning at 6 p.m., also at Holtzman Alumni Center.

He is the fifth and final speaker in the Sowers lecture series, following Nigel Goldenfeld earlier this month, Arthur B. McDonald in April, and Naomi Halas and David Reitze, both in February. Sweatt is the first speaker whose talk will focus on neuroscience. The other speakers’ talks have focused on physics and nanoscience.

“Dr. Sweatt is one of the world’s leading memory researchers who is asking the most fundamental question in all of neuroscience, namely, how do we learn and how do we remember things,” said Harald Sontheimer, director of the School of Neuroscience, and director of the Center for Glial Biology in Health Disease and Cancer, part of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “The inability to perform these simple tasks deprives us of our humanity, as exemplified by patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. As an accomplished artist, David has the unique gift to explain even the most complex research finding in an understandable and interesting fashion, which make this public presentation an experience not to be missed.”

Prior to arriving at Vanderbilt, Sweatt was a colleague of Sontheimer’s at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where Sweatt served in the Department of Neurobiology, and was director of the Civitan International Research Center and of the McKnight Brain Institute. Among Sweatt's numerous awards are the Ipsen Foundation International Prize in Neural Plasticity and election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The 2017 J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series is funded by J. Mark Sowers, a Richmond, Virginia-based businessman and longtime supporter of the College of Science. The lecture series is designed to serve as a forum to exchange new and innovative ideas in scientific fields, including physics, nanotechnology, and neuroscience.

Of the lectures, Sowers previously has said, “I hope that people will be inspired by the lecture series and to bring attention to Virginia Tech and its brilliant researchers for the advancement of fundamental physics.”

A programming committee for the series is comprised of faculty from the college’s Department of Physics, the Academy of Integrated Science, and the School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech. This group developed and recruited the guest lecturers.

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