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How the Social Brain Builds Itself—But Sometimes Doesn’t: Genes, Experience, and the Biological Roots of Autism

April 17, 2018, 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

(Photo credit: Laura Straus)

The 16th Annual Paul D. Bartlett, Sr. Lecture

We have reached our seating capacity for this event.

Live Stream Option: If you are unable to attend the lecture in person, you can watch a live broadcast on the Library’s Facebook page or via livestream.com.

The lecture

From birth to age one, an infant’s brain forms 10 million new synaptic connections per second. After that, synapses are pruned away at a net rate of 5 million per second for the rest of childhood. This volcanic churn, driven by genetics and shaped by experience, makes us who we are. Dr. Wang will discuss how developing brains build themselves—and how the process can go off track. In particular, he will focus on the cerebellum, a sensory processor that helps teach the brain to reach its potential. The answers may unlock doors to understanding—and someday preventing—autism.

The speaker

Sam Wang is professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton University. His work focuses on the neurobiology of learning, at levels ranging from single synapses to the whole brain. Dr. Wang’s research places special emphasis on the cerebellum, a brain region generally associated with the coordination of muscle movements. He is particularly curious about the cerebellum’s role in cognition and social thought processes, and he is using neural imaging of this part of the brain to search for clues to the causes of autism, a major concern of his laboratory.

An alumnus of the California Institute of Technology, where he received a BS with honor in physics, Dr. Wang went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience from the Stanford University School of Medicine. He conducted postdoctoral research at Duke University Medical Center and then Bell Labs Lucent Technologies. In the mid-1990s, he also worked on science and education policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. Dr. Wang joined the Princeton University faculty in 2000.

Dr. Wang’s first book, Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life, published in 2008, was named Young Adult Science Book of the Year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2011, he published Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College, which is available in 15 international translations.

Admission tickets

We have reached our seating capacity for this event. E-tickets are no longer available and we have closed the wait list.

Live Stream Option: If you are unable to attend the lecture in person, you can watch a live broadcast on the Library’s Facebook page or via livestream.com.

About the Bartlett Lecture

The annual Paul D. Bartlett, Sr. Lecture was established in 2003 to bring the finest university professors to speak on subjects related to the Linda Hall Library´s collections.

Paul D. Bartlett, Sr. was elected chairman of the Linda Hall Library Board of Trustees at its first meeting in 1941. Under his leadership the Halls’ bequest for the creation of a public library in Kansas City was used to establish this library devoted to science, engineering and technology. Mr. Bartlett served on the Board until his death in 1964.

The lectures are presented by the Linda Hall Library in association with the Harvard-Radcliffe Club of Kansas City, the Princeton Alumni Association of Greater Kansas City, and the Yale Club of Kansas City.


Parking is free in Library parking lots and along the west side of Holmes Street between 51st and 52nd streets. The main entrance to the Library grounds is on Cherry Street. The Linda Hall Library is not affiliated with the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Parking in all UMKC lots is by permit or meter.


April 17, 2018
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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Eric Ward


Linda Hall Library
5109 Cherry
Kansas City, MO 64110 United States
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Questions? Contact Eric Ward at 816.926.8753 for more information about these events.