Thursday, May 7, 2009

Post 14: Spanish Castle Magic

Spanish Castle Magic is the song of the day, my last day in Spain. I’ve came Valencia to receive the Catedra Santigo Grisolia, a prize given annually to two scientists in biomedical research or neuroscience.

Valencia has been very nice. It’s a beautiful city. Some years ago the River Turia was diverted away from the city center. Since then, the dry river bed has been put to various uses, including soccer fields and parks, but most impressive are the ultra sci-fi like buildings that constitute the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences): the opera house, cinemas, planetarium, museums. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias was designed by Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela, local architects. Running along side these-awe inducing bright white magical Spanish castles is an equally bright aqua pool that seems to go for miles, not deep enough for swimming, but good for cooling your feet on a blistering hot day, of which there are many here. This uber-modern area is especially striking because of its proximity to the narrow streets of the old city.

You can check out what the Ciudad looks like here: http://www.cac.es/ It's worth the detour!

My three lectures on The Emotional Brain, part of the prize event, were given in the Museo de las Ceincias Pricipie Felipe, a wonderful science museum within the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The museum has a collection of original drawings by the great Spanish neuroanatomist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal. Cajal was the architect of the “neuron doctrine,” the controversial idea (controversial in 1900) that the brain contains individual cells interconnected across spaces that were named “synapses” by the Cambridge physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington, connecting some dots between my stay in Cambridge and my visit to Valencia.

It was a great honor to receive the Catedra Santigo Grisolia. Professor Grisolia is a world renowned scientist and it is wonderful to be associated with his name. Past awardees in neuroscience have been some of the most prominent in the field, including Richard Morris, Rodolfo Llnias, and Gerald Edelman, to name only some. In addition, my co-awardee was Avram Hershko from Israel, recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2004 for his pioneering work on protein breakdown by ubiquitin. And last, but certainly not least, I have many wonderful colleagues fromValencia, including Fernando Martinez Garcia, Paco Olucha, Enrique Lanuza (Paco and Enrique spent time in my lab a few years ago). Also Lorenzo Díaz-Mataix, from Valencia, is currently in my lab.

In addition to the generoisty and hosptiality of Professor Grisolia and his charming wife from North Dakota, my stay in Valencia was made memorable by Professor Vincente Felipo and his staff, especially Amparo Martinez.

Now it’s back to Cambridge for my final two weeks, with a trip to Paris in the middle. Time’s flying by. It’s been such a great sabbatical. My only regret is that Nancy wasn’t able to be with me on all these adventures.

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