Neuroscience Research in Summer

As Summer Fellows, Christopher Howard 2012 and Jennilyn Weber 2013 continued research they began in the spring in the lab of Dr. Carlita Favero. Especially interesting to the team is studying the development in mouse embryos that have been prenatally exposed to ethanol. Favero and her students hope that their research someday will aid other scientists in creating therapies for children affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Together they examined the path that axons ( picture a long “tail” that connects neurons) take during development from the thalamus to the cortex of the forebrain as well as the birth and death of the cells there during this time (thalamo-cortical development).

The Summer Fellows program at Ursinus allows sophomores or juniors to pursue an independent scholarly project under the close guidance of a faculty mentor. The project can be undertaken as independent research or a creative or artistic endeavor, on or off-campus and includes eight weeks of full-time study and a $2500 stipend. Faculty mentors help direct the project. All Fellows presented their research during the last week of the program, and many present at Family Day and at professional conferences off campus.

“As an undergraduate, I’ve already taken a step towards making a difference the lives of children,” says Jennilyn Weber. When deciding on a college, Weber vowed to find one that offered the best undergraduate degree in the sciences for medical school. “In the beginning I thought I wanted to major in biology, but I learned of the great neuroscience professors and classes offered here and did some research into requirements. I felt it could answer a lot of the “why” questions that I’ve always had about the brain. Even more amazing is that Ursinus could give me the opportunity to find some of those answers on my own by doing research.”

Christopher Howard, Weber’s research partner, has been interested in science as long as he can remember. “My mother, an operating room nurse, immersed me at a young age into the wonders of science.” Originally, though, his plan was to become an architect. “Mostly because I enjoy working with my hands. But after my freshman year, I declared biology as my major. I realized that in order to holistically understand the human body, I would first have to understand the how the brain functions. This sparked my interest within the field of neuroscience. I began exploring my options during the first semester of my junior year.”

Dr. Favero’s research was so compelling for Howard that he began working in her lab during his junior year. “I believe that the real lab research exposure provided by Ursinus helps to define why it is such a unique institution. This exposure has allowed me to become involved in what I would consider to be the most hands-on experience of my collegiate career. My only regret is that I did not become involved sooner,” he says. — K.C.