Science Meets Music

Science Meets Music: How are Memories Powered?

Feb 21,
  • Time:
  • Location: The Benjamin Upper School

Speaker: Dr. Vidhya Rangaraju, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

Musical Guest: Madison Yan, piano

Imagine our brain as a bustling city that needs tremendous energy to power our thoughts and memories. Within this city are special busy intersections called synapses that require a lot of power. But there is a challenge: these intersections are far from their power plants. So, there are tiny biological ‘batteries’ known as mitochondria anchored near the synapses to provide that energy when it is needed. Our research focuses on how these biological batteries are anchored near brain synapses and how they produce the instant energy to keep them active. Now, why does this matter? When there is a problem with these biological batteries or their anchoring near synapses, it can lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS. Our research opens possibilities for new treatments for these diseases. It is like finding a way to keep the city’s lights on, ensuring that every street and every intersection of the brain remains vibrant.

Dr. Vidhya Rangaraju started her Research Group Leader position at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in January 2020. The overarching goal of the Rangaraju group is to investigate the energy use and supply of biological processes in neurons.

Prior to this appointment, Rangaraju was an EMBO and Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow in the group of Dr. Erin Schuman at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Germany. During her postdoc, she uncovered the presence of local mitochondrial compartments of energy that fuel local translation during synaptic plasticity.

Rangaraju completed her Ph.D. in the lab of Dr. Timothy Ryan at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. During her graduate work, she developed a novel optical reporter of synaptic ATP to measure dynamic changes in ATP concentrations and elucidated the link between neuronal activity and ATP synthesis.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Vincent du Vigneaud Award of Excellence, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Award, the MPIBR Scientific Discovery of the Year Award, the SfN Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award, and the CZI Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award.

Madison Yan, Piano

Madison Yan currently studies with Kevin Kenner at the Frost School of Music in the University of Miami. She began her musical studies at age five under the tutelage of Dr. Irena Kofman. Madison is a three year National Chopin Foundation Scholarship recipient, and has received many accolades in both national and international competitions, including first prize in the William Knabe International Piano Competition, third prize at the International Chopin Competition in Hartford, and third prize at the International Keyboard Odyssiad and Festival. She has performed twice with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony and performed with the Alhambra Orchestra of Miami as a featured soloist. She has performed in masterclasses with renowned musicians such as Maria João Pires, Robert McDonald, Dang Thai Son, Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Ewa Pobłocka, and others. Outside of music, Madison enjoys writing, dance, and martial arts.