Date & Time
February 26, 2023
6:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Profs and Pints DC presents: “What Was T Rex Thinking?” a look at the brains of dinosaurs and how they might live on in our backyard birds, with Amy Balanoff, assistant research professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University and scholar of brain evolution.
The term “bird brain” typically is used as a pejorative, but that shouldn’t be the case. Birds are highly intelligent animals with many complex behaviors, including the ability to use tools. And there’s good reason to believe that much of their intelligence was passed on to them by ancestors that you’d hate to see out your window, extinct dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex.
Come learn how research on the brains of dinosaurs and birds is shedding light on the behavior of both with the help of Dr. Amy Balanoff, who has extensively studied the evolution of dinosaurs that walk on two legs and the origin of the avian brain within this group.
Professor Balanoff’s talk will take us from the dinosaur beds of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to advanced laboratories capable of mapping brain activity in living birds. She’ll discuss how technologies such as CT scans (like those used in hospitals) are enabling us to peer inside the well-preserved skulls of fossilized dinosaurs to reconstruct the morphology of their brains, while other technologies such as positron emission tomography (PET) scans are shedding light on how birds’ brains work.
Many of the features that we associate with living birds, like feathers or a wishbone, first appeared among dinosaurs early in their evolutionary history. This same pattern appears to hold true when it comes to the size and shape of the bird brain, and there’s ample evidence to support the idea that birds emerged from a lineage of theropod (upright) dinosaurs that managed to survive the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period. Dr. Balanoff will discuss the role neuroanatomical evolution played in both the ecology of dinosaurs and the origin of modern avian flight.
The story of birds and their unique brains is one that stretches across millions of years of evolution and whose details are only now coming to light. After hearing Dr. Balanoff talk you might find yourself giving your local sparrows and crows a bit more respect. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later. Please allow yourself time to place any orders and get seated and settled in.)
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