Archive for April, 2008

Bird Song Studies and Human Speech Disorders….

April 21, 2008

Researchers at Wesleyan University (Middletown CT) and elsewhere are studying birdsong in an effort to better understand human speech disorders. Using Canaries and Zebra Finches as laboratory subjects scientists are using techniques such as MRI, deafening and botox injection to learn more about neuron addition when songs are being learned. One study described as:

…. the first functional MRI study to agree on how vocal sounds are represented within the brain of an awake zebra finch, a well-studied animal model of vocal learning. Because of many similarities between birdsong and human speech, this research could lead to an improved understanding of the cause of stuttering and other speech problems…..The vocal learning process in the zebra finch offers a model system to study the neural and behavioral mechanisms by which humans learn to make sounds. Songbirds such as zebra finches have specialized areas of their brains dedicated to communication. That is why they have been used as animal models to study speech disorders, such as stuttering. It is estimated that more than 3 million Americans stutter.

Prof. John R Kirn at Weleyan’s Biology Department was recently interviewed on the student run radio station WESU-FM (88.1) about his current study of birdsong in the Zebra Finch. A weekly radio program called Faculty Lounge presents each week an hour long interview with a Wesleyan professor. Those interested can download the entire interviews as podcasts. Prof. Kirn’s complete interview can be heard here. I have also made a 10 minute excerpt of an especially interesting part of his interview.

In an ABC story from late last year we learn:

Researchers at Wesleyan University are using botulinum toxin A, marketed under the name of Botox, to study how songbirds are able to pull off a unique miracle in the animal kingdom and regrow the brain cells that die as they age.

They are working under the hypothesis that the key to regeneration of neurons lies in singing, at least for the zebra finch, a small bird of Australian origin that spends its life trying to master the perfect song.

“We’re basically asking the question, is it singing a correct song that matters in terms of regulating this process (of neuro-regeneration)?” says John Kirn, associate professor of biology and chair of the neuroscience and behavior department at Wesleyan.

According to Prof. Kirn the Zebra Finch’s song is not particularly melodious and “sounds somewhat like a car that won’t start”. (short audio here)

Coleman Brothers Shows 2008

April 6, 2008

The annual appearance of this venerable carnival was accompanied as usual by cold and damp weather. But the season opening of The Coleman Brothers Shows here in Middletown is really a shakedown cruise and warm up for the long season ahead which takes the show on the road all over the Northeast. Next stop Willimantic. What is really remarkable about this show is how swiftly the tents are folded and the rides dis-assembled; the show open until 9 PM Saturday evening and the field nearly empty at 9 AM Sunday morn. I live nearby and did not hear their passing in the night. I made a video (6:06) which I invite you to watch; comments please.

Feet to the Fire Festival 2008: Help Wanted….

April 3, 2008

A Call for Volunteers


Saturday, May 10, 2008, 12–5pm

Free admission

Veteran’s Memorial Park

Middletown, Connecticut

Located just off Newfield Street (Route 3)

Each of us has an impact on the world around us. We leave footprints and our footprints are changing the
planet. How can we impact these changes and imagine a sustainable future?


An eco-arts festival for the whole family featuring music, dance and theater performances, and a farmer’s
market with food from Connecticut vendors. Interactive exhibits will highlight energy conservation,
sustainability and resilient communities. This free festival is co-presented by Wesleyan University’s Center
for the Arts
and Environmental Studies Program, the Jonah Center for Earth and Art and the City of
Middletown with support from the Middletown Commission on the Arts and the Rockfall Foundation.


In the spirit of the Festival, volunteers will be asked to join the Festival team by assisting artists and
exhibitors, working on security, transportation, parking, promotion, documentation and other tasks to
create a pleasant, healthy and safe environment for Festival-goers to experience all that the Festival has to
offer. Shifts available to suit your schedule and jobs that will make a difference.

If you are interested in participating in the Festival as a volunteer, please contact Adrian Nieves at or 860-685-2696 by April 15, 2008. We will hold a volunteer meeting shortly.