Interview with Robert Lustig

23.06.2020 - 30.09.2020

Can you present your research during your stay at CY|AS?

Prof. Gaussier and I are attempting to understand the phenomenon of technology addiction. Previous research has implicated specific areas of the limbic system in addiction, in particular the nucleus accumbens or the “reward center”, the amygdala or the “fear center”, and the prefrontal cortex or the “executive function center” of the brain. Using existing neuroimaging and neuropharmacology research, we have “built” in silico a robotics version of the human limbic system, in order to simulate the changes in these structures when chronic reward and chronic stress exert simultaneous inhibitory effects on the prefrontal cortex. In this way, we hope to discover new modalities for combatting adolescent addictions in general, and technology addiction in particular.

Does the Fellows-in-Residence program meet your objectives in terms of research and scientific collaboration?

The IAS Fellows-In-Residence program has permitted me to work one-on-one with colleagues in my field of neuroscience, in a venue that is completely novel. But it also allows me to interact with colleagues in varied other fields of endeavour, including materials science, history, economics, artificial intelligence, physics, and mathematics. I am impressed by how insightful they are regarding my research and vice-versa. 

Describe your impressions of your experience at CY|AS

To be able to interact and brainstorm with one’s peers in an objective and non-judgmental fashion is what every scientist hopes for. My only regret is that my time at IAS was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What will this research period bring to you and to your home university?

We are attempting to launch a curriculum and set of materials to help children, parents, and teachers around the world combat technology addiction. My project at IAS provides a scientific basis for these efforts, which lend them credence and gravitas.

Do you have other plans for the future, other destinations in mind?

Because of the pandemic and my other projects, I must currently stay situated in San Francisco. But I hope to return to Cergy and IAS sometime in the future to complete the work, and to see everyone again!