Neurophysiology Laboratory

Wesleyan University, Fall 2021

All living cells maintain a difference between internal (intracellular) and external (extracellular) solutions, including major differences in the concentrations of important ions intracellular vs extracellular. One result of this is that all living cells have a voltage – a potential difference across the cell membrane (inside ‘negative’ compared to outside). This is called the resting membrane potential of the cell. 

What makes neurons special and different from almost all other cells is that they make critical use of changes in this membrane potential in order to accomplish their jobs as computational and communication units. As we all know, inputs received at the synapse cause graded changes in potential (via synaptic receptors) that then summate to produce output as impulses. 

Neurophysiology is the study of the physiology of neurons and a major part of their physiology are these electrical potentials (electrophysiology). Electrophysiology is the main subject of this course, though we will connect neurophysiology with other tools for studying animal behavior such as motion tracking and genetic tools.

Students will develop their skills in:

  • Quantitative and analytical thinking
  • Data analysis and presentation
  • Simple science writing
  • Use of instrumentation, simple electronics and troubleshooting, problem solving
  • Fine motor skills and surgery

Of students in this course I ask:

  • 100% effort
  • Some independence and self-motivation. You should expect long, often open-ended labs: there will not be as much structure as you may be accustomed to.
  • Patience when things do not go well and willingness to push yourself to learn as much as you can about the neurons and systems that you will examine.
  • Notice things in your data; pay attention to detail; ask questions (to yourself as well as to others and to me)

Comparative Animal Behavior

Wesleyan University, Spring 2021

An introduction to the study of animal behavior, this course will examine the factors that control the behavior of vertebrates and invertebrates within evolutionary, social, and physiological contexts. All animals face similar challenges and we will examine the common, and sometimes unique, behavioral strategies used to meet these challenges. Topics will include feeding and foraging, communication, agonistic interactions, parental care, hormonal modulation, and more. As this course explores the scientific study of animal behavior, students will also get introduced to some basic data analysis tools using computational notebooks to explore data from a small subset of the assigned primary articles.

Students will be able to:

1) Apply acquired knowledge of vocabulary and concepts in the field of Animal Behavior to the reading and literary analysis of primary research articles.

2) Communicate research to peers as well as a broader audience: identify, summarize and present to your peers the background, motivations, technical challenges, and significant findings of primary research.

3) Analyze, interrogate, and visualize data collected for primary research articles in the Animal Behavior literature. Write and edit Python code, particularly in Jupyter Notebooks.

This course will take the opportunity to introduce students to basic tools in behavior experiment/data analysis with open source programming. Jupyter notebooks can be accessed on github at: https://github.com/neurologic/AnimalBehavior_SP2021

Motor Systems

Wesleyan University, Spring 2021

This course is designed to take a comparative approach to understanding the major motor systems of the brain and will cover the basic elements of motor “control.” However, the motor system does much more than contract muscles. Even the most basic movements such as walking require whole-body coordination that must be learned and adapted to our environment. During active sensation, motor systems even modulate our sensory perceptions. Much of what we have learned about motor systems comes from animals as diverse as crickets, electric fish and birds. This course uses a comparative approach to understand the functions various brain regions contribute to our active lives.

Students will be able to:

1) Synthesize a functional hierarchy for motor control.

2) Develop hypotheses specific to the mechanisms of motor control and motor learning using data from primary literature.

3) Discuss to the various roles of motor action in sensory perception.

4) Communicate research to peers as well as a broader audience: identify, summarize and present to your peers the background, motivations, technical challenges, and significant findings of primary research articles.