A Brief History of Neuroscience at Amherst

Amherst’s interest in the field of neuroscience began with a neurobiology course taught in 1971-72 by Visiting Prof. Maurizio Mirolli. The College had previously shown leadership in innovative science for undergraduates with its Biophysics Program, begun in the 1950s, which was the predecessor of both Neuroscience and the current Biochemistry and Biophysics major. 

Three Amherst professors led the effort to start the Neuroscience Program: Profs Allen Kropf (Chemistry), Tom Yost (Biology), and Rose Olver (Psychology). Through their efforts the College received a 1973 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop the first undergraduate neuroscience major. The Sloan grant paid for both renovating and outfitting research and teaching labs and for the salary of a neurobiologist for three years. The original neuroscience faculty were Profs Charles (Al) Sorenson in Psychology, Alan Waggoner in Chemistry, and Steve George in Biology. The Amherst faculty approved the Neuroscience major in Fall 1973, and during that semester the first students signed up for the major. Prof. Lisa Raskin (Psychology) joined the Neuroscience faculty in 1978. Since then, many other faculty have participated in the program.

A total of 681 Amherst students have graduated with a major in Neuroscience over the past 50 years since the program was founded.

Learn more about our Neuroscience Program here: About the Program page

1973 Article in Amherst Magazine

Below is an image from a story about the new neuroscience program in the Amherst Magazine in Fall 1973. Shown are the 3 original faculty and student Philippe Sommer '74 (psych. major) (L to R Steve George, Al Sorenson, Alan Waggoner, Philippe).  The student (face hidden) doing the electrophysiology experiment is most likely the late Octy Owens '74 (one of the first neuroscience majors).

50th Anniversary Celebration during Reunion 2024


The Neuroscience Program held a 50th Anniversary of the Neuroscience Program at Amherst College during the 2024 reunion. The reunion was when the neuroscience majors from the class of ‘74 celebrated their 50th reunion and the Neuroscience Program will mark its 50th anniversary of becoming one of the first programs in the country (note the 35,000 member, Society for Neuroscience was only established 5 years prior in 1969). 

The event was in the Science Center Living Room at Amherst College on Saturday, June 1st, 2024 and was for all class years of neuroscience majors as well as neuroscience-loving students and alums, families, staff, faculty, and administrators.