At a Glance

  • 2015−16 season |  Oct 8, Nov 5, Dec 3, Feb 4, March 3, April 7, and May 5
  • Time | 7 p.m.
  • Location | Continuing Education and Conference Center, St. Paul campus
  • Tickets | Series pass: $80; individual events: $20
  • Registration | 612-624-4000, on site, or online

Celebrating ten years of lively discussions on timely topics.
Hear it here, as it happens.

Headliners, the University of Minnesota’s popular current event series, returns this fall for its tenth season with new opportunities to meet with University experts as they share firsthand knowledge of today's most intriguing stories—medical breakthroughs, culture clashes, social trends, foreign affairs, and more! Hear the Who, What, Why, and How from an insider's point of view, and then ask questions and share your insights in a moderated Q&A. 

Mapping and Interfacing with the Human Brain

Bin He, Headliners Dec 3 speaker

There are currently more than two million people in the United States who suffer from various degrees of paralysis, including those who are robbed of speech and mobility because of neurodegenerative diseases. But what if there was a way for these people to regain function by controlling artificial limbs, wheelchairs, or other devices—with their minds? Sound far-fetched? Thanks to the work of Dr. Bin He, his students, and collaborators, that day may be closer than you think.

It was 2013 when researchers in the University’s College of Science and Engineering developed a first-of-its-kind, noninvasive technique that allowed individuals to control a device—in this case, a flying robot—using only their minds. Pioneered by He, Electroencephalography (EEG) is a unique 3-D brain-computer interface (BCI) that records a person’s brain waves through a high-tech EEG cap fitted with electrodes.

The technique works due to the geography of the motor cortex, the area of the cerebrum that governs movement. When a person moves, or thinks about movement, neurons in the motor cortex produce tiny electric currents. The combination of using both functional MRI and EEG imaging allows researchers to map where in the brain neurons are activated when a subject imagines movement.

The success of using EEG to control a flying robot—for the first time in history, to He’s knowledge—leads University researchers to believe the system will someday pave the way to greater physical function and independence for millions of people. For He, the integration of engineering innovation and neuroscience research is key to the system’s noninvasive approach.

"My entire career is to push for noninvasive 3-D brain-computer interfaces," says He. "[Researchers elsewhere] have used a chip implanted into the brain's motor cortex to drive movement of a cursor [across a screen] or a robotic arm. But here we have proof that a noninvasive BCI from a scalp EEG can do as well as an invasive chip."

So what’s next?

He thinks the potential for BCI is very broad. “Our next step is to use the mapping and engineering technology we’ve developed to help disabled patients interact with the world. It may even help patients with conditions like autism or Alzheimer’s disease or help stroke victims recover.”

Join us December 3 when Dr. Bin He shares his research, his insights, and the game-changing drive behind this brave new world of mapping and interfacing with the human brain.

Dr. Bin He is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Biomedical Engineering; the Medtronic-Bakken Endowed Chair for Engineering in Medicine; and Director of the Institute for Engineering in Medicine, University of Minnesota. 
With thanks to Deane Morrison, “Mind Over Mechanics,” 2013.

When Everyone Is Above Average: Inflated Rhetoric in Higher Education

The book is hilarious... [Schumacher's] scabrous book reminds me of Sam Lipsyte's Home Land, Richard Russo's Straight Man and Jincy Willett's Winner of the National Book Award. If you didn't find those books funny, well, that means you're a corpse. But you're also, apparently, a corpse who reads, so there's hope for you yet. You should read Dear Committee Members; maybe it will bring you back to life.
                                                      —Brock Clarke, The New York Times Book Review

Plenty of attention has been focused in recent years on the trend toward grade inflation, which has come about—depending on whom you ask—because of the increasing cost of higher education, the corresponding sense of higher stakes for students, or the phenomenon of the “student as customer” (the idea being, of course, that the customer is always right).

But the quest for a 4.0 and the pressure to give and receive higher grades mirror a larger trend, both within and outside academia: that of near­constant evaluation and review, most requiring inflated, hyperbolic rhetoric. In the letter­of­recommendation in particular, candor has been replaced by the need to shower generous praise on students, colleagues, candidates, strangers, and friends.

Julie Schumacher’s most recent novel, Dear Committee Members, is written entirely in the form of letters­of­recommendation composed by an irascible professor of English at the fictional Payne University. Join us February 4 when the Thurber-prize-wining author will examine this very particular, occasionally absurd, and often hilarious form of communication.

Julie Schumacher is a professor of English and Creative Writing, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms., The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. Her first novel, The Body is Water (Harper Perennial, 1999), was an ALA Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Minnesota Book Award; it has been translated into seven languages. Schumacher’s other books include a short story collection, An Explanation for Chaos (Harper Perennial, 1998), five novels for young readers, and most recently, Dear Committee Members (Anchor reprint, 2015), winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Photo: Catherine Smith 

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