When the tantalizing scent of chocolate chip cookies wafts by, how does your mind know what it means? Nobel laureate Richard Axel will explain in his talk, “Scents and Sensibility: Representations of the Olfactory World in the Brain,” in Cornell’s annual Ef Racker Lecture in Biology and Medicine Thursday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m. in Call Alumni Auditorium, Kennedy Hall. A reception will follow in Kennedy Atrium. The talk is free and open to the public.
Axel and his colleague Linda Buck received the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology in 2004 for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system. They identified more than a thousand genes involved in the recognition of odors. This work helped usher in the field of genetic engineering, which revolutionized the biotechnology industry and laid the groundwork for some of today’s promising immunotherapies.
“Dr. Axel is an extraordinary scientist and gifted speaker who has made a number of fundamental contributions to the field of neurobiology, particularly through his groundbreaking work in determining the molecular basis of our sense of smell,” said Richard Cerione, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine and a co-host of the Ef Racker lecture series.
In his current research, Axel explores how odor recognition is translated into internal representations in the brain. He is interested in the neural mechanisms that translate these representations into appropriate innate and learned behavioral responses.
Axel is a university professor in neuroscience at Columbia University and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He obtained an A.B. from Columbia College and an M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medical School. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Axel was awarded the Double Helix Medal in 2007. He is a foreign member of the Royal Society, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
On Nov. 16 Axel will offer a seminar on “Order from Disorder: The Imposition of Meaning on Odor Representation”at 4 p.m. in Biotech Building, room G-10, followed by a reception. The lecture will also be available via Zoom and can be viewed in the Biotech Building, G-01 Racker Room and Weill Hall, room 226.
Axel’s visit is sponsored by the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics. The Racker Lectureship is named for the late Efraim Racker, the Albert Einstein Professor of Biochemistry and chair of the Section of Biochemisty, Molecular and Cell Biology at Cornell.
Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.