How brain researcher Dr Lucy Palmer makes discoveries and runs a laboratory

How brain researcher Dr Lucy Palmer makes discoveries and runs a laboratory

How do we understand the brain? It’s commonly referred to as the most complex entity in the universe.

That’s why Dr Lucy Palmer has made it her life’s work to understand how the brain interprets the external world and the effects on our daily functioning.

Having studied in Melbourne, Minnesota, Canberra, Bern and Berlin, she returned to Australia in 2013 to head the Neural Networks Laboratory at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

More recently, she founded The Palmer Laboratory,  where a select group of PhD and Masters students work together to investigate how the brain processes sensory information by measuring the activity of neurons within the neocortex. Their ultimate goal? To understand the neural activity contributing to perception and behaviour.

Palmer won the 2017 Women’s Agenda Leadership Award in Technology, in the same year she was awarded a prestigious Senior Medical Research Fellowship from the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Foundation.

The Fellowship, worth $1.2 million, allows Palmer to continue her research into how our brains integrate information from the world around us, letting us respond in an appropriate way. Palmer hopes to shed light on the brain’s malfunctioning circuits, which can lead to brain disorders like schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy.

When she won our tech award two years ago, she said the win would “help the younger generation of females neuroscientists realise that it is possible to run a successful research laboratory as both a female, and mother to two young children.”

And she’s absolutely doing all that.

We caught up with the busy Professor briefly this week.

Nominations are closing today (July 24) for the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards. Nominate a talented emerging female leader in tech, science, entrepreneurship and more. Nominations to enter yourself will close 48 hours later.

What do you do?

I am an Associate Professor at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne. As a neuroscientist, I explore how sensory information is encoded and modulated within the brain.

What have you been up to since the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards?

I have been extremely busy since the Awards. My laboratory has doubled in size and I am therefore juggling with all aspects of science, from analysing data, to interpreting results and writing manuscripts.

What is something you’re working on that you’re excited about?

My laboratory has made some exciting discoveries lately. In particular, we are investigating the part of the brain called the cortex which interprets and combines sensory information. We have discovered how this information is modulated by other brain regions, and how this affects sensory-based behaviour.

Why is it important to have women in science, particularly in your field?

My field of cellular neuroscience is male-dominated. It is crucial to have women in prominent roles to provide different insight, but also to be role models for the next generation.

What’s the most exciting thing about neuroscience?

Discovery.

Where do you want to see your career in five years?

In 5 years, I hope to still be making discoveries and contributing to our growing knowledge of how the brain receives and interprets information from the outside world.

Who is a woman you really admire right now?
I admire all females who follow their passions, whatever that may be!

Read more on Dr Lucy Palmer from after she won the 2017 Women’s Agenda Leadership Award here. 

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