Dr. Rae Silver, head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University and Helene L. and Mark N. Kaplan Professor at Barnard College, is studying what makes the master clock in our brain tick. Collaborating with scientists from Rockefeller University, Silver and her colleagues discovered that the stomach releases hormones “telling” the brain when to initiate hunger. Recently highlighted in Science News and Science Daily, this landmark discovery that may provide new treatments for obesity. “Every cell, every tissue, every organ, every function occurs at a certain time. You can’t do everything at once and neither can a cell do everything at once,” she explained. Silver’s lab continues to explore how the brain clock determines our daily rhythms, and even what happens when it is transplanted from one animal to another.

Meanwhile, Dr. Silver began her second line of research after discovering the presence of mast cells in the brain. “Mast cells are the cells that make you sneeze, itch, and swell, so when we found them in the brain, we were shocked because the brain shouldn’t be swelling or oozing liquids,” she said. These cells then must be doing something different in the brain and Silver’s lab hopes to understand what that other function is.

Working to help advance Dr. Silver’s dual interests are Megan Manganaro ’10 and Akhila Iyer ’10, Barnard students majoring in neuroscience and behavior. While Megan researches on the brain clock’s role in circadian rhythms, Akhila works to determine whether mast cells contribute to tumor formation in the brain. Watch the video above to find out more on how Megan and Akhila’s experience with cutting-edge research has enriched to their education at Barnard.

— Lan Li '10


Recently, Science and Nature have written about efforts by Dr. Silver and her colleagues to address gender biases in biomedical research.