Talking with Chanel Matney, a neuroscience graduate student in the Brown Lab, can send your mind racing in many different directions as she discusses her passions and interests and gives sage advice. A native Marylander from a family with diverse career paths ranging from medicine to performance art, Chanel is the sole basic science researcher. Though her family has a difficult time differentiating a neuroscientist from a neurologist, she is remarkably adept at describing the questions and interests that drive her.
When talking about what motivates her as a neuroscientist, Chanel explains: “We tend to think of our conscious selves as a little person inside our head — looking out into the world — to perceive and interact with reality. However, the very essence of all that we sense, what we think of as ‘reality’ — is in and of itself shaped by the brain. What the brain ‘sees’ is shaped and filtered by how the brain is engineered to work.”
Furthermore, when asked what specific questions interest her, she is able to list off several, quickly: “How do we make sense of the constant inundation of sights, sounds and sensations streaming into our cranium? How does the brain take in information — filter it, organize it, relay it, transform it? How does the brain give us this rich representation of what’s out there in the world?”
To answer these questions, Chanel studies how neural pathways guide sensory information. Specifically, she is interested in the pathway between the cerebral cortex and the thalamus, a pathway known to be integral in the processing of incoming sensory information. Currently, through a variety of techniques, she is testing the hypothesis that the neurons in this pathway are not a homogenous group but rather fall into a number of subpopulations, each of which have their own function in information processing.
This project is fitting for Chanel, as it is obvious that her own interests, like the very neurons she studies, are not of the same group. Each passion is rooted in a different field, including law, neuroscience and the arts, creating a unique part of Chanel and giving rise to a beautiful network of ideas.
Interested parties stay tuned; she is working on a podcast and blog!