Columbia University in the City of New York

Science

Movement

US Olympian Karen Chen (Credit: Getty Images)

Life moves to survive.

Consider the fish that escapes a predator by swishing its tail, or the bird who communicates with its young by vibrating her vocal cords. Movement is how living creatures interact with their environments and each other.

At Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute, we explore how the nervous system gives us the power to move every one of our parts. How do some nerves help our eyes to smoothly swivel and track an object zipping through the air? How do other nerves guide our hands to deftly reach out and grab that object? And how do our brains plan our actions before we even begin them?

Our researchers create molecular tools that illuminate nerve cells in the spinal cord that are critical for movement, and mathematical tools that detect brain-activity patterns important for coordinating muscles. What we are discovering could help athletes and dancers – and all of us – to better understand how our brains control our bodies. This fundamental research could one day inform efforts to treat impairments of movement caused by physical injuries or diseases such as Parkinson’s.

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Videos About Movement

The Brain Science of Baseball

Baseball players today make home runs look easy. But hitting the ball with a bat just right is an amazingly difficult thing to do. At Columbia's Zuckerman Institute, neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert, PhD, is uncovering the connections between body and brain that make such physical feats possible

The Brain Science of Figure Skating

In celebration of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Silver Medalist Paul Wylie joins Drs. Rui Costa and Nathaniel Sawtell, neuroscientists at Columbia's Zuckerman Institute, on a journey inside the minds of some of the world's most elite athletes.

Flywalker

Developed by Richard Mann and Columbia Physics Professor Szabolcs Marka, Flywalker is a combination apparatus and software program that pays close attention to an insect’s steps. The insect strolls over a piece of glass in the device. At the same time, light beamed into the glass bends — much in the same way that light shimmers in a swimming pool — resulting in bursts of light where the fly touches the glass. A video camera captures those bursts and then feeds them into software that reconstructs the fly’s movements, step by step.

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