Sensing a Memory

  • Speakers
  • Kyle Marian Viterbo headshotKyle Marian Viterbo, M.Sc.Science Journalist and Comedian
  • Photo of Garrett OliverGarrett OliverBrewmaster, The Brooklyn Brewery
    Editor-in-Chief, “The Oxford Companion to Beer”
    Founder, Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling
  • A portrait photo of Lynn Yap.Lynn Yap, Ph.D.Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Columbia University
Date & Time

About Presents
Presents is a free events series exploring the connections between science, culture and society. Join our scientists and special guests as they discuss the intersections of their work, followed by an evening of conversation over drinks. It’s an opportunity to hear new perspectives that may challenge your assumptions and stoke your curiosity. Meet interesting people who share a passion for ideas and discovery. Come for the conversation, stay for the connections.

Does the aroma of freshly baked cookies transport you back to your childhood kitchen? Or does the scent of fresh-cut grass evoke nostalgia for long summer days? Out of all our senses, smell is the most closely linked to our memories and emotions.

Not only are smells anchors for connecting with our past, but they also play a major role in our sense of taste. Around 80 percent of the flavors we perceive arise from our sense of smell due to the interplay of aromatic molecules released when we bite into food or sip a drink.

Simons Society of Fellows Junior Fellow and neuroscientist Lynn Yap studies how sensory experiences like smells relate to learning and memory. She is especially interested in the origins of phantom smells (called olfactory illusions) that occur even when there’s nothing to sniff. These hallucinations are a higher-order cognitive process shaped by prior experiences and expectations.

Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, is fascinated by sensory illusions and has hidden them within some of the company’s experimental brews as surprising and playful ways to engage people beyond their sense of taste.

Join them for a conversation with science journalist and comedian Kyle Marian Viterbo to explore the curious ways our senses can evoke memories (and vice versa) and the intertwined nature of scent and taste.


Kyle Marian Viterbo is a comedian, producer, science journalist and former scientist. She performs across the U.S. and UK, creating socially-mindful, inclusive and accessible shows like “The Filipino Comedy Festival,” “Asians Strike Back: A Coronavirus Comedy Science Show” and “The Symposium: Academic Stand-Up.” Through standup, improv and storytelling, Viterbo loves to create experiences that make audiences laugh and learn while challenging the foundations of our knowledge. She mentors early-career academics and science communicators with historically marginalized identities to be stronger public speakers and storytellers. Viterbo is cultivating a network of educational standup comedians through the Science Comedy Collective.

Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery (since 1994), the author of “The Brewmaster’s Table” and the editor-in-chief of “The Oxford Companion to Beer.” Oliver served on the founding board of Slow Food USA and served five years on the Slow Food International Council. He is a winner of the James Beard Award, the Semper Ardens Pris and the Andre Simon Award. Oliver is well known internationally for his television and video appearances since the 1980s and for hosting more than 1,000 events and dinners in 17 countries. In 2020, he founded the Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling (MJF), which grants scholarship awards for technical education in brewing and distilling production for people of color.

Lynn Yap is a postdoctoral research fellow in Richard Axel’s laboratory at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University. She completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, where she worked with Michael E. Greenberg. Before Harvard, she received her B.S. in chemistry and biology from Yale University.

Yap is interested in understanding the neural mechanisms of associative learning and memory in animal models. In her doctoral work, she studied how the sensory experiences of an animal are consolidated in a region known as the hippocampus. By generating genome-wide datasets to identify candidate transcriptional responses that could regulate synaptic function and performing electrophysiological recordings from neurons, she uncovered novel forms of hippocampal plasticity at specific synapses within the circuit. At the Zuckerman Institute, Yap is asking how an internal sense of smell can be generated even without odors in the environment, a higher-order cognitive process shaped by prior experiences and expectations.

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