Head Banging: How Music and Concussions Impact Brain Health

How do our experiences, such as learning how to play music and playing sports, affect our brain? Although we are surrounded by sound all of the time, we rarely give much thought to this invisible yet powerful companion. The auditory system is a uniquely complex sensory system and the ability to make sense of sound relies on exquisite precision by the brain. Given the complexity and precision of the auditory system, accurate sound processing is particularly vulnerable to head injury. On the other hand, its precision can be honed by activities that exercise the auditory brain such as playing a musical instrument.

We have discovered a way to objectively capture the imprint that sounds leave on our brains. This biological approach empowers us to learn more and more about this invisible ally and enemy of brain health. Dr. Kraus will examine the promise of measuring soundprints in the brain to assess and manage sports-related concussions. She will discuss how music training is beneficial for the brain, strengthens our communication skills, and can inform health care, education, and social policy. Join us on September 25th to get swept away in this sensory learning experience.


Nina Kraus, is the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University. She is a scientist, inventor, and amateur musician who uses hearing as a window into brain health.

She began her career measuring responses from single auditory neurons and was one of the first to show that the adult nervous system has the potential for reorganization following learning; these insights in basic biology galvanized her to investigate sound processing in the brain in humans.

Through a series of innovative studies involving thousands of research participants from birth to age 90, her research has found that our lives in sound, and our experiences, for better (musicians, bilinguals) and for worse (concussion, aging, language disorders), shape how our brain makes sense of the sounds we hear.

Using the principles of neuroscience to improve human communication, she advocates for best practices in education, health, and social policy. See


Sleep and Clocks, Windows to Health

Most of us know what it feels like after a long night with little or no sleep, but do we know the wide-reaching effects such nights can have on our health?

Sleep is a fundamental, biological necessity that is governed by our bodies and 24-hr (circadian) clock processes. Millions of Americans suffer the health consequences of disrupted sleep or circadian organization. An inadequate amount or quality of sleep is a growing and under-appreciated determinant of health status. The consequences to society are enormous, including risk for several of modern societies’ medical epidemics including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, accidents and overall quality of life. This lecture will provide an up to date understanding of the biological mechanisms that regulate sleep and wake function, the multiple functions of sleep and the consequences of poor sleep and circadian misalignment (as seen with shift work) on performance, learning and memory, and physical health. In addition, strategies to promote better sleep at the right time of the day will be discussed.

Featured Guests Phyllis Zee, MD, Ph.D. Phyllis C. Zee, MD, Ph.D. is the Benjamin and Virginia T. Boshes Professor in Neurology and Professor of Neurobiology at Northwestern University. She is also the Director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine (CCSM), Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and the Medical Director of Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Dr. Zee is the founder of the first circadian medicine clinic in the US, where innovative treatments are available for patients with circadian rhythm disorders.

Dr. Zee’s research has focused on the effects of age and neurodegeneration on sleep and circadian rhythms and pathophysiology of circadian sleep-wake disorders. In addition, her laboratory is studying the effects of circadian-sleep based interventions, such as exercise, bright light, and feed-fast schedules.

Dr. Zee has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed original articles, reviews and chapters on the topics of sleep, circadian rhythms, and sleep/wake disorders. She has served on numerous national and international committees, NIH scientific review panels, and international advisory boards. Dr. Zee is the recipient of the 2011 American Academy of Neurology Sleep Science Award and the 2014 American Academy of Sleep Medicine academic honor, the William C. Dement Academic Achievement Award.

Blog Post

You Can’t Cheat Sleep

By Robert Kriss

Dr. Phyllis Zee, Chief of the Sleep Medicine at Northwestern Hospital, warned the audience at Horner Park on Wednesday, August 15, that we cheat sleep at our peril. Dr. Zee’s excellent presentation was the first instance of C2ST’s collaboration with the Chicago Park District in the “Science in the Parks” series. Watch the video here.

Dr. Zee explained that three scientists recently shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their work in the early 1980’s identifying the genes and protein molecules that drive our twenty-four-hour biological clocks, often referred to as our “circadian rhythm.” Every cell in our bodies has the clock mechanism, and all these clocks are coordinated by the master clock in our brains. The mechanism interacts with light and dark. It keeps us awake and productive (usually) during the day and early evening, and puts us to sleep at night to rejuvenate our systems for another day.

Most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep at night, although some of us can function well with as little as six. But if a person consistently gets less than six hours of sleep at night, they will function at the level of someone who is legally drunk. And they won’t even know it. In fact, sleep-deprived individuals often think they’re performing at the top of their game when, in fact, they’re a danger to themselves and others.

Continue reading “You Can’t Cheat Sleep”


Challenges and Opportunities in an Emerging Solar Economy

Part of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Wanger Institute for Sustainability Energy Research (WISER) 2018 Distinguished Lectureship Series.

For most of our existence, humans have been sustained by solar energy harnessed on the same timescale as its use. Only in the last two centuries have we become dependent on fossil resources. Continue reading “Challenges and Opportunities in an Emerging Solar Economy”


Extreme Storms

Huge downpours, massive flooding, heat waves, prolonged droughts—these extreme events are occurring more frequently, and with greater intensity. “100-year-floods” are occurring every year or two; should we consider these weather events the new ‘normal’? How are cities and regions responding and planning under such uncertainties? Continue reading “Extreme Storms”