Senior Elon Gaffin-Cahn wins award

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By Rachel Refkin

Neuroscience major Elon “EG” Gaffin-Cahn ‘12 was awarded the Scholander Prize at a conference last Monday,  April 23  in San Diego, California.

This research was on the neural response of dragonflies to approaching objects and was the first dragonfly research project presented at the American Physiological Society’s Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology subdivision.

Gaffin-Cahn’s  thesis advisor and neuroscience professor Robert Olberg inspired Gaffin-Cahn’s research.

Gaffin-Cahn began his work with dragonflies as a summer research assistant to Olberg. Olberg recalled that when Gaffin-Cahn came to him inquiring about the position, he came off as a very independent problem solver. Gaffin-Cahn commented that his research position with Olberg, in addition to his studies with the neuroscience department, gave him the critical thinking and organizational skills he needed to create his thesis. “It gave me the ability to ask the right questions,” Gaffin-Cahn stated.

Gaffin-Cahn was particularly drawn to dragonfly research because they have “very complex and intricate behaviors,” he said.

For his tests, Gaffin-Cahn projected a growing circle on a screen, which represented the dragonfly’s view of the approaching prey. “I wanted to see if these nerve cells would fire at consistent time before the calculated time to contact the growing circle and the dragonfly. The data suggests that the cells do just this.”

Gaffin-Cahn feels that winning this award has been a great experience for research and has sharpened his ability for “coming up with interesting and relevant questions.”

Olberg added that it was a “beautiful piece of research,” and was thoroughly impressed with the job he had done.

After graduation, Gaffin-Cahn plans to become a research assistant to gain more experience before applying for Ph.D programs in neuroeconomics, the study of human decision making.

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