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2020 Event

Male Zebra finch bird

Singing in the Brain: A Personal Science Journey

Featuring Erich D. Jarvis, Ph.D.

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Saturday, January 11, 2020
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
View 2020 Lecture: Session 1
View 2020 Lecture: Session 2
View 2020 Trivia Poll
The Rockefeller University
Caspary Auditorium
1230 York Avenue at East 66th Street
New York City

Erich D. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Head, Laboratory of Neurogenetics of Language
The Rockefeller University
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Erich Jarvis studies the molecular and genetic mechanisms that underlie vocal learning, using birdsong as a primary model for human spoken language. He has developed an integrative approach that combines computational, behavioral, physiological, and molecular techniques to uncover not only the neural genetics of vocal learning, but also the evolution of this complex behavior. Dr. Jarvis’s studies comparing neural structure and gene expression in songbirds and other species have led him to theorize that the brain pathways for vocal learning in both birds and humans likely evolved from a motor circuit common to all vertebrates. By harnessing new technologies to elucidate the biological mechanisms that underlie vocal learning, Dr. Jarvis is further exploring how neural circuits are established.

Erich D. Jarvis, Ph.D.
Photo Credit – Frank Veronsky

Session 1

Bird Song and Human Language

Humans and some birds are among the few animals that exhibit the rare ability to learn specific sounds and reproduce them. In the first talk, Dr. Jarvis will present discoveries made from researching songbirds, parrots, and other bird species that can imitate sounds—in some cases, even human speech. Studies of these animals have provided clues to the development of the human brain’s ability to produce spoken language. Further, he will discuss how language may have evolved in the human brain from neural pathways that control movement, including the expressive form of movement that we call dance.

Session 2

Learning to Fly – Becoming a Scientist in a Diverse Environment

Dr. Jarvis and birdIn this talk, Dr. Jarvis will discuss the challenges and triumphs he encountered on his personal and academic journey to becoming a scientist. Growing up in New York City, his first passion was dance. He attended the High School for Performing Arts and received scholarships for advanced study. He danced professionally with the Westchester Ballet Company, but ultimately decided to pursue his love for science. Dr. Jarvis received a bachelor’s degree in biology and mathematics from Hunter College in 1988 and a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in 1995. He conducted postdoctoral research at Rockefeller before joining Duke University, where he ascended to a full professorship, and re-joined Rockefeller as a professor and head of lab in 2016.

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Made possible through the generous support of the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Family Science and Society Initiative


Shawn Davis
Outreach Programming and Events
The Rockefeller University
1230 York Avenue, Box 164
New York, NY 10065