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The mysteries of the brain are the focus of an unusual summer program that is developing the next generation of neuroscientists.

Undergraduate students come to UAlbany to participate in a ten-week summer program called Research Experience for Undergraduates or REU, as part of the work of UAlbany’s Center for Neuroscience Research. The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, engages students in neuroscience research and helps them explore careers in the neuroscience areas of biology, chemistry, psychology, biomedicine and public health.

Professors John Schmidt and Li Niu of the Department of Chemistry served as neuroscience mentors for Lisa Schlueter and Leivi Sosa

Professors John Schmidt and Li Niu of the Department of Chemistry served as neuroscience mentors for Lisa Schlueter and Leivi Sosa.

“Students at small colleges usually can’t knock on the doors of professors who are doing this kind of research and they can't tackle undergraduate research projects in the neurosciences themselves. Here they have such professors as their mentors and the students get a real head start,” said UAlbany biologist John Schmidt, who directs UAlbany’s Neuroscience Research Center.

Schmidt and 19 other UAlbany faculty members in the various neuroscience fields serve as Center associates and mentors.  In addition to working with individual faculty, students take part in classes and discussions that acquaint them with research in the other labs. Outside experts from throughout the Northeast come to speak, and at the end of the ten-week program, students give presentations where they share their research experiences with one another.

Students have the opportunity to conduct original research.  “It was a thoroughly intense experience,” said Lisa Schlueter, who studied brain development under the mentorship of UAlbany psychologist Christine Wagner. “I’d say that the wealth of knowledge I gained was unmatched by any classroom experience I’ve had.”

Research Experience for Undergratuates - Participants and Mentors 2003

Research Experience for Undergratuates - Participants and Mentors 2003
 

While there’s no doubt that the focus is in-depth training, the program does make time for some fun. “We’ve gone whitewater rafting on the upper Hudson River and to the nearby Adirondacks for hiking, kayaking, swimming and mountain biking,” says Schmidt.

UAlbany’s Center for Neuroscience Research was established in 1969 to focus on the development and plasticity of the nervous system, but it has evolved into broader studies of neural development and regeneration, genetic and hormonal control of behavior, and synaptic function and plasticity. These fields are applicable to the study of Alzheimer’s Disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and other diseases and malfunctions of the brain.

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