Julie Miller

Dr. Julie Miller, University of Arizona

Wednesday, August 28, 2019, 2:30-3:30 p.m., The Arizona Senior Academy Building

In this presentation, Dr. Miller will explore her insights into the brain science connections between birdsong and human speech. Birdsong is learned during critical developmental periods just like human speech. In both songbirds and humans, the learned vocalizations are continually refined throughout life by hearing oneself and through social feedback. 

Dr. Miller calls her laboratory, the WINGSS Laboratory — Working Investigations of Novel Genes for Song and Speech. The laboratory studies a particular species of songbird, the zebra finch. Male zebra finches have specialized, vocally-dedicated brain circuitry important for song learning and production. Female finches do not sing, but they have highly specialized auditory brain structures that can perceive subtle changes in the male’s song. 

In the description of Dr. Miller’s current research on her website she discusses her work on how social context and dopamine modulation alter circuitry. (Dopamine is an organic chemical produced by the body. It works as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter.) She and her team study connections between the brain circuitry and the adult song behavior to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms important for human vocal communication. In particular, they seek to understand how voice and speech disorders arise as we age and in response to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease.  

Dr. Julie E. Miller grew up in Albany, NY. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Wellesley College in 1997 and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Arizona in 2005. Following her Ph.D., she conducted her postdoctoral research at the University of California, Los Angeles prior to joining the University of Arizona faculty in 2014 as an Assistant Professor tenure-track. She holds a shared appointment between the Department of Neuroscience and Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. 

Written by Bev Robertson, Academy Village Volunteer

Aug. 28: “What Birdsong Can Teach Us about How We Communicate”