On November 19, Janelia group leader Gwyneth Card will deliver a talk, "Taking Action: How Small Brains Make Big Choices."


  • Dialogues of Discovery lectures are free and open to the public, but tickets are required for admission.
  • Seating is limited to 250 people.

Janelia group leader Gwyneth Card will deliver the next lecture in the Dialogues of Discovery series at Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. Card’s talk, “Taking Action: How Small Brains Make Big Choices,” is on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available at

All Dialogues of Discovery lectures are free and open to the public, but tickets are required for admission, and seating is limited to 250 people. See for more information.

A fly's brain may be millions of times smaller than yours or mine, but it is still a sophisticated processor that can solve all of life's major problems: how to find food, a mate, and—crucially— escape danger. 

In this lecture, Card will discuss how scientists are combining the latest technologies for recording and manipulating neural activity in behaving animals to uncover the mysteries behind how such a tiny brain can accomplish these feats, and what this might mean for how our own brains make critical life decisions.

Card is a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus. She has a BA in Biology from Harvard University, an MPhil in Zoology from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD in Bioengineering from the California Institute of Technology. It was during her graduate work in Michael Dickinson’s lab that she first discovered, using 6,000 frames per second high-speed videography, that a fly’s escape responses are much more complex than anyone had appreciated. This discovery opened the door to using Drosophila escape behavior as a model system for neuroscience in which questions about how brains choose and orchestrate behavior could be tackled using genetic tools.

At Janelia, Card studies escape behaviors in the fruit fly to unravel the circuits and processes that underlie decision-making, teasing out how the brain integrates information to respond to a changing environment. New research in Card’s lab reveals how a quick-escape circuit in the fly’s brain overrides the fly’s slower, more controlled behavior when a threat becomes urgent. “The fly's rapid takeoff is, on average, eight milliseconds faster than its more controlled takeoff,” says Card. “Eight milliseconds could be the difference between life and death.”

Recent Dialogues of Discovery speakers have included HHMI investigator Joseph DeRisi from the University of California, San Francisco; John P. Donohue from the Institute of Brain Science at Brown University; Janelia laboratory head Ulrike Heberlein; Jeremy Nathans, HHMI investigator at Johns Hopkins University; Cori Bargmann, HHMI investigator at Rockefeller University; Jennifer Tour Chayes, Managing Director at Microsoft Research; Sean Eddy, Nobel laureate Eric Betzig, and Karel Svoboda, laboratory heads at Janelia; Sir Paul Nurse, President of The Royal Society; Roger Perlmutter, President of Merck Research Laboratories; and Leslie Vosshall, HHMI investigator at Rockefeller University.

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