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Have Class, Will Travel

Undergraduates attend national neuroscience meeting

David Bucci, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, likes to find ways to make his courses come alive. Last fall, for example, he planned an entire advanced psychology seminar around attending the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in November, held in Washington, D.C. The meeting, explains Bucci, is the premier yearly gathering for thousands of scientists in the neuroscience community.

David Bucci
Left to right: Chadd Funk '07, Katherine Lang '06, and Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Science David Bucci travelled to Washington, D.C., to attend the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"Our syllabus was straightforward," says Bucci. "We picked several topics that were going to be covered at the meeting, and then we researched and discussed them so we would be fully prepared to participate when we got to the conference. I think this is an unusual, but effective, way to run a course."

Bucci's approach was designed to expose students to contemporary themes, theories, and research in the field of neuroscience. By the end of the term, the students not only learned what was new in this field, they had also met world-class researchers and gotten an introduction to what it would be like to pursue a career in neuroscience.

"I really liked the way the course was run," says Chadd Funk '07, who is majoring in neuroscience. "Professor Bucci provided guidance and background on the topics. He insisted that we participate in the discussions and was eager to hear our opinions. This forced us to think critically about the topics, and it helped us develop skills for approaching new problems in the field."

Katherine Lang '06, a biology major and neuroscience minor, said that the best part of the course was the introduction to the latest research into a variety of topics.
"The meeting was incredible," she says. "The sheer amount of information alone was exciting and overwhelming. I study the effects of steroid hormones on sexual behavior in rats and found the presentations dealing with this topic most interesting."

Funk's interests leaned toward glial cells, the cells that provide the support system for the brain's nerve cells.

"The presentation that stood out the most to me was the one on glial cells," he says. "The lecturer described a novel form of heterosynaptic depression involving an astrocyte, which is a type of glial cell. Activity at one synapse, the connection between two neurons, signals to the astrocyte, which then sends that signal to another nearby synapse and reduces that synapse's effectiveness. It was quite exciting because it represented a new and very involved role for astrocytes."

Both students said they would recommend this course to others. Because it covered the latest in neuroscience research, it was timely and engaging. And, according to Funk, there were culinary perks as well.

"There's fabulous Ethiopian food in D.C.," he says.

By SUSAN KNAPP

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Last Updated: 12/17/08