Overview of the Neuroscience Program

Neuroscience Mammoth

How does the mind work? How can we explain the behavior of animals and people? What goes wrong when someone is mentally ill or emotionally disturbed? Neuroscience is a modern attempt to answer these questions through the study of the brain. 

Amherst College's interest in neuroscience began back in 1973 when the college became the first institution to offer an undergraduate major in neuroscience


Check out some pictures and history from 1974 here: https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/neuroscience/about/neuro-program-history

Undergraduate neuroscience programs are now quite common, as shown by the active Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience group associated with the national Society for Neuroscience

Many fields of science, including biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics and computer science, and physics are important in studying the nervous system, and Amherst students who major in neuroscience take courses in all of these fields. Many of the courses include laboratory work emphasizing modern techniques, such as recording electrical activity from single nerve cells, measuring behavioral effects of drugs, and working with proteins and nucleic acids. The major consists of quite a few required courses. Neuroscience majors also take part in the Neuroscience Seminars & Comprehensives, where students and faculty discuss current research and guest neuroscientists lecture on their work.

The Neuroscience Program at Amherst College offers opportunities for honors thesis research projects during the senior year, and we have a high level of participation in senior honors. The honors projects are in the research areas of the Neuroscience faculty, which include biochemistry of the retina, molecular biology of synapses and the neuromuscular junction,  neurophysiology of sensory systems, developmental psychobiology, and the neural basis of fear and anxiety. We are very fortunate to have close contacts with the Neurosciences and Behavior faculty at nearby University of Massachusetts, at Amherst, and several of our majors have taken advantage of the opportunity to do senior honors research in the labs of UMass faculty such as Drs. Kay Fite, Geert DeVries, Dan Chase, Jerry Meyer, and Tom Zoeller.
Amherst College students are frequently able to present the results of their research at the national meetings of the Society for Neuroscience or other scientific meetings including the annual N.E.U.R.O.N. meeting (NorthEast Undergraduate Research Organization for Neuroscience) meeting at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. 

Almost all Neuroscience majors enter graduate or professional programs, either right after graduation or after working or traveling for a year or two. Typical careers involve medicine, research, teaching, or a combination of these. Many of our graduates are making significant contributions to their professions. They can be found doing research in laboratories at the National Institutes of Health, teaching high school in Boston, practicing medicine in dozens of places around the country, or working in the business world in a biomedically related area. What they all have in common is a fascination with how the brain works, and the experience of taking the challenging program of Neuroscience courses at Amherst College.

Questions about the Neuroscience Program? Please e-mail: neuro@amherst.edu


Science Center at Amherst College

In 2018, the Neuroscience Program and Biology Department moved into the new Science Center shown at left. This new modern facility includes the Computer Science Department and the Keefe Science Library and the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, and Psychology.

Federal and private foundation grants have contributed to the specialized equipment used in teaching and research which includes ultracentrifuges, scintillation counters, spectrophotometers, high-performance liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, fluorescence microscopes, video equipment, a cell sorter, tissue culture facilities, a greenhouse, and many networked computers. 

Several natural areas nearby offer opportunities for field research. The Connecticut River Valley contains many lakes and streams as well as diverse terrestrial ecosystems, and the College owns a large wildlife sanctuary adjacent to the campus.