Gray Matters

When it Comes to the Brain, BYU Neuroscience Majors Are Finding Out What Counts

Derek Martinez and Summer King preparing proteins for artificial membranes
Derek Martinez guides fellow graduate student Summer King in preparing proteins for artificial membranes.
Three hundred and seventy BYU students are studying the human brain in one of the strongest, most attractive programs on campus. The "hybrid" Neuroscience Center is gaining notoriety, not only for students planning to pursue professional and graduate degrees, but also among neuroscience experts across the country.

Rodney Brown, dean of the College of Biology and Agriculture and David Magleby, dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences are co-administrators of the Neuroscience Center. "The great strength of this program is in the overlap between the biological sciences and the social sciences," Brown said. "Great progress often occurs where two fields come together." Brown noted the rapid growth in enrollment since the Center began in July 1999 and said he expects to see sustained interest.

Magleby, who shares Brown's vision, said neuroscience is a very strong undergraduate major at BYU. "As a shared program between two colleges, it has extraordinary potential, and I think it can become even stronger," he said.

Edwin Lephart, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Developmental Biology and the Neuroscience Center's founding director, was instrumental in developing the idea. James Porter, Lephart's department chair and a member of the neuroscience faculty, said the Neuroscience Center was Lephart's brainchild. "With the help of other good people Eddie was successful in his ambition," Porter said. BYU's Neuroscience Center is now the largest such undergraduate program in the United States.

Lephart said students who are neuroscience majors gain a broad background, a strong science base, and a great perspective that helps them to make career choices and succeed in graduate or professional school. Ninety-two percent of the Neuroscience Center's 2005 graduates attend medical, dental, or graduate school.

Ramona Hopkins, associate professor of Psychology, is the current director of the Neuroscience Center. Hopkins eagerly discussed the interdisciplinary opportunities the Neuroscience Center offers students. "Because the brain is so complex, you can't understand it from the perspective of just one discipline," she said. The Neuroscience Center consists of faculty members from psychology, physiology and developmental biology, and audiology,   speech and language pathology.

Hopkins said the Neuroscience Center brings distinguished faculty from other universities to BYU as guest lecturers. Dr. C. Macosko from Wake Forest University and Dr. R. Berman from the University of California at Davis gave seminars and visited with students and faculty in February and March, respectively. But visitors like Macosko and Berman do more than provide students information about cutting edge neuroscience research. "When we bring these visitors to Provo, they have only limited knowledge of us," Magleby said. "After meeting our students and seeing the center's research, they want to collaborate. It's helping connect our faculty with research programs at other universities and helping us stay at the cutting edge of the science."

"This is an exciting program," Hopkins said. "It's constantly being updated and changed as science evolves. There are a lot of opportunities for students in neuroscience." She pointed out BYU's own exceptional faculty and said, "Students are able to work in the labs of professors who are extremely well known in their field. They get a world class education at BYU."

Senior undergraduates Lisa Leishman and Rebekka MathesonGREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE

Senior undergraduates Lisa Leishman (Magrath, Alberta) and Rebekka Matheson (West Jordan, Utah) sing the praises of the Neuroscience Center. They both say that their neuroscience major has provided the kind of education they were hoping for when they came to BYU. "I sampled a few majors, and wasn't satisfied," Matheson said. "I decided to really challenge myself, so I went to the book of majors and found the one that looked the most difficult. After taking my first Neuroscience class I

knew I had found my niche."

"My father is a doctor," Leishman said, "and I have always been interested in medicine. Neuroscience was a growing program and really caught my eye."

"I like how neuroscience draws from all the scientific disciplines," Matheson said. "It's neat how we can connect esoteric science to what really makes you who you are."

"I have been able to choose the things that I wanted to learn about," Leishman said. "We had a variety of professors come in and discuss their research and we read papers that were being written in their fields, so we were at the front of the newest things."

Both women have sustained honorary scholarships while at BYU and plan to attend medical school, possibly with a focus in neurology.

"BYU's 'hybrid' Neuroscience Center is gaining notoriety, not only among students