International family, maple leaves, and glass brains

03/01/2017 11:11 am ET

When I was little, I used to catch leaves with my dad in autumn as I waited for the school bus in the Pine Barrens (a part of southern New Jersey that takes credit for the origin of the Jersey Devil). I was thinking about those moments as I read a recent interview with Karl Friston (KF).

Among his numerous honors, Friston is a Fellow of the Royal Society (joining the likes of Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon) and is an inventor of many tools that allow thousands of brain mappers to statistically test hypotheses about functional brain imaging data. For his contributions, he recently received the Glass Brain Award, which is the lifetime achievement award for the Organization for Human Brain Mapping. While reading a recent two-part interview conducted by Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus (THK), a fellow brain mapper and HuffPost Contributor, one of Friston’s answers resonated with me because it lifted up the concept of family and collaboration in science:

THK: In this competitive world of science, it is sometimes challenging to remember important values of friendship and collaborative work. Can you share a personal story with me about how these values resulted in significant scientific accomplishment?
KF: I think it would have to be the Keith Worsley story. Keith was such a wonderful and innocent guy: innocent in a way that he just wanted to understand stuff. The famous story about Keith goes as follows: Alan Evans [now president of OHBM] found Keith walking through the campus of McGill University, picking up maple leaves from the ground. When Alan asked: “What are you doing?” He replied “Getting data”.
He was looking at the geometry of the tips of the maple leaves. Within a few months, Alan managed to replace maple leaves with neuroimaging data. A couple of years later, I met Keith. What came out of our collaboration illustrates a practical thing about international friendships: you can only make them work – when you're both very busy – through young people. It's very much like parents who are terribly distracted by other commitments but who share a common investment in their children. I should note one's ‘children’ generally become more expert than their parents, which is a hallmark of good parenting.

And if I could chime in, it is a hallmark of great mentorship and great science. Friston and Worsley built a family of students through their international collaboration that has significantly advanced our understanding of the living human brain. Friston's answer to this question was a humbling reminder that we are nothing without each other and collaboration.

The glass brain is a reminder that the brain itself is fragile. And we as brain mappers constantly remind ourselves that we would not be able to do what we do without teams of people and collaborations from around the globe.

Further Reading:

Kevin S. Weiner is a neuroscientist, as well as member of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) and writes for the Communications/Media Team. The OHBM Media Team brings cutting edge information and research on the human brain to your laptops, desktops and mobile devices in a way that is neurobiologically pleasing. For more information about brain mapping, follow or @OHBMSci_News

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