Improving Health & Medicine

Weizmann Global Gathering 2014: Partners in Creativity at Lincoln Center, Prof. Noam Sobel

Prof. Noam Sobel’s participation in the science and modern dance performance at Lincoln Center is the introduction of the sensory: specifically, how all our senses take in any experience, yet must have the brain’s involvement in order to process the input. His studies on the sense of smell – specifically, on the brain mechanism behind the sense of smell – have implications beyond just being interesting. He and his lab spend a considerable amount of time and resources studying the brain’s response to odors, developing machines and other mechanisms for learning how the brain is able to turn something as elusive as an odor into a real perception. The deterioration of this ability can be used to diagnose disease – as Prof. Sobel says, one of the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is the loss of smell, sometimes a decade before diagnosis. Conversely, autistic children have improper development of the smell “codes”; as such children may be nonverbal, Prof. Sobel’s “smell test” could be a method of early diagnosis.

He is joined by a line of dancers at the front of the stage, and slowly fades back as they begin to move and, occasionally, stand still. The dance is both mechanical and fluid, conveying the way the brain works – and not.