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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Acclaimed Neurobiologist Catania to Present Musselman Natural History Lecture

By Tom Robinson

Ken Catania, a unique neurobiologist who studies unique predators, will deliver the Lytton J. Musselman Natural History Lecture on March 1, 7 p.m. in the North Cafeteria of Webb Center.

"Catania's presentations and videos are not only biologically informative; they're entertaining as well," said Musselman, the Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany at Old Dominion. "His recent work on electric eels received considerable attention in the scientific community."

Catania is the Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. At Old Dominion, he will speak on "The Remarkable Brains and Behaviors of Unique Predators."

The lecture is part of the ODU Presents series of multidisciplinary speakers, which supports the University's research initiatives and community outreach efforts.

It is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Guests are encouraged to RSVP at 757-683-3116 or online at this link.

A recent feature story on Catania and his research in The Atlantic called the scientist "a rarity: a neurobiologist who specializes in single-handedly uncovering the secrets of unusual and amazing animals. In a century dominated by big, collaborative science, Catania stands out for a string of single-author papers in top-tier scientific journals."

Catania's recent studies on electric eels advanced the knowledge of the animals' lethal pulses. According to the story, "Catania discovered that the pulses act like a wireless Taser: They stimulate the neurons that feed into a fish's muscles, forcing those muscles to contract.

"This paralyzes the fish, allowing the eel to swallow it with a fast strike. When they hunt, the eels release simple pairs of quick pulses, of a kind that trigger exceptionally strong muscle contractions," he noted. "Even if fish are hiding, these doublet pulses compel them to reveal their location through uncontrollable twitches, which the eels sense."

In the Atlantic article, Catania also noted, "This is one of the most amazing things I've encountered in studying animals, and I've seen a lot of unusual things."

Catania combines neuroscience, slow-motion video and photography to understand the specialized brains and behaviors of predators and their prey. His studies include such unusual species as star-nosed moles and water shrews, along with crocodiles, snakes and insects.

He has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship "genius grant," a Pradel Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences and a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Musselman Natural History Lecture is a continuing series led by Musselman, the Mary Payne Hogan professor of botany at ODU.

The series was launched with the help of a substantial gift from ODU alumni Michael and Sue Pitchford. A former student of Musselman's, Michael Pitchford is president and chief executive officer of Community Preservation and Development Corp. in Washington, D.C.