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Stuart Firestein

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Dr. Stuart Firestein is the former Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences where his laboratory studies the vertebrate olfactory system.  The olfactory sense is of  interest on its own for its deep connection to behavior, but also serves as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of signaling and perception in the brain.  In the past 20 years the olfactory system has become one of the major areas of brain investigation for its relation to numerous neurological pathologies as well as its role in nutrition and psychological well being.  His laboratory seeks to answer that fundamental human question: How do I smell?


Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience Firestein serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science, where he reviews scripts for the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Science and Technology Program, and for the Tribeca Film Festival.  In 2011 he received the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching. He is a Fellow of the AAAS, an Alfred Sloan Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow.  He recently joined the Santa Fe Institute as a member of the (visiting) Fractal Faculty.  At Columbia he is on the Advisory boards of the Center for Science and Society (CSS) and the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience – both centers for interdisciplinary work between the sciences and the humanities. He has published two books on the workings of science for a general audience, Ignorance, How it Drives Science and Failure: Why Science is So Successful. They have been translated into 12 languages. He is a regular contributor to Nautilus magazine.

Firestein received his Ph.D. in Neurobiology from the University of California Berkeley and worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Gordon Shepherd before becoming a faculty member at Yale University, then Columbia University.

Find out more about Firestein’s research program and publications here

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