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Neuroscience

Available as a major or minor

Unlocking the mysteries of the human brain is the key to understanding what makes us tick. Our fantastically complex nervous systems are the mainframe that govern our emotions, thought processes and actions.
 
Neuroscience is driving advances in our understanding of human behavior, development and disease. But much more remains to be discovered.
 
The field is an excellent fit for students fascinated by the unknown and inspired to seek answers that will help improve the human condition. Neuroscience majors go on to be doctors, counselors, researchers, biotech innovators and more.

Curriculum & Courses

NEUR 330: Principles of Neuroscience
HHP 306: Motor Behavior 
BIOL 420: Developmental Biology
PSYC 335: Neuropsychology
PHYS 410: Biophysics

A student demonstrating a neurological monitor on another student

Student Experiences

Andrew Chitwood smiling for a photo while wearing his internship ID badge

Andrew Chitwood '24 landed an internship with the head of neurosurgery research at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine after his neuroscience advisor here at Roanoke College connected him with the program.

The opportunity allowed him to learn firsthand about translational research and regulations as well as assist in clinical research work. He counted himself fortunate for the strong mentoring culture cultivated at Roanoke that led to him being recommended for the job.

"It's been another extremely valuable experience,” he said. “I spent the whole summer at Carilion doing research in neurosurgery and learning directly from someone in the field that I want to go into. And that was all possible originally at least because of the people I've met here and the faculty I have here."

Chitwood went on to graduate school in Virginia Tech's Translational, Biology, Medicine, and Health program on the Ph.D. track.

stock photo of virtual reality goggles emitting a bright light

You whisper it to yourself over and over: There’s no such thing as monsters. But when a beast lunges from the shadows on a movie screen or game console, you still jump out of your seat. It seemed so dang real! 

The question of just how real was the focus of a project that Eliza Bain ’24 pursued in the lab of Assistant Professor Lauren Kennedy-Metz. Her project investigated whether VR in video games was immersive enough to trigger a real physiological, stress response. Hooked up to monitors that tracked heart rates and respiration, two groups of subjects — one on VR and one on traditional interfaces — jumped into the ghost-hunting horror game “Phasmophobia.” 

Their fright responses could tell us more about this increasingly versatile, virtual resource that scientists are also starting to employ in training simulators, mental health therapies and other real-world needs. Bain was invited to present her work at an international assembly of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback .

For her, the project also tapped into a passion for chasing answers to the big questions facing science. “This was my first time designing my own experiment, and I realized that I just love it so much,” she said. “I want to go on to grad school and continue doing research.”

Bain is now pursuing a master's in experimential psychology at Radford University.

What Makes Roanoke Different?

Roanoke College is ranked as one of the nation’s Great Schools for Psychology Majors by The Princeton Review. Our department focuses on psychology as a science so students can think critically about how and why people do what they do — skills and insights that apply to any career path that a graduate might pursue.

"I was able to do research with great professors, attend conferences and make connections. Everyone here helped me a lot whether it be in applying to grad school, pursuing research or doing my honors thesis project. I had so much support throughout my entire journey."

Huda Hashash '24, international student, now in graduate school at Duke University

Huda Hashash smiles and applauds during her graduation from Roanoke College

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Mountcastle

Dr. Vernon Mountcastle, universally considered the father of neuroscience, was a Roanoke College graduate. His research on how brain cells work together to process perceptions and movements led to groundbreaking discoveries that set the stage for modern-day neuroscience.

In the true spirit of a Maroon, he brought a tireless passion for scientific exploration to his decades-long career. Reflecting on the last lab he worked in before retirement, Mountcastle once wrote, “I was nearly brokenhearted to leave it, for I found no greater thrill in life than to make an original discovery, no matter how small.”

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Learn By Doing

stock image of an eye with computer imagery laid over the pupil

Every waking second, a human eye can take in thousands of data points, translating light, shape and color into meaning. It happens instantaneously, a powerful and continuous instinct to make sense of the world around us — even when it shouldn’t make sense.

Ellington Cooke ’24 had an opportunity to work with Assistant Professor Anthony Cate on a project investigating that fundamental mental process, asking how we perceive patterns in random clusters of objects, like a field of scattered dots, one of the tools that Cate's research lab uses with test subjects.

By unraveling the commonalities in how people create order from chaos, light could be shed on larger questions about how we process and store information. The chance to join the project while still an undergraduate also helped Cooke sharpen his skills as he pursues plans to go onto graduate school and a career in clinical psychology.

"As I take the next steps in my studies and career, I anticipate that having research skills and a firsthand understanding of how the scientific process works will be hugely beneficial," he said.

From reading brain waves to testing vision in cognitive psychology, Roanoke College students get opportunities to do meaningful, real-world experiments in their work.

A student sits while hooked up to wires for a experiment
A student is hooked up to wires while other students monitor the readings on a computer
A close-up of a graph on a computer screen showing data from the readings
A student takes notes while another student prepares to lean into an eye device for an experiment
A student peers through an eye device and reads directions on a nearby computer screen during an experiment

Careers & Outcomes

A student standing in front of her research poster at a presentation

Alex Grant, Nathaniel De Young and Dr. Brian Shenal presented "A comparison between QOL in TBI and Memory Disorder Clinics." at the SYNAPSE Conference at UNC Asheville, and Stephanie Shields, Caitlin Morse, and Dr. David Nichols presented "Are electrode caps worth the investment? An evaluation of EEG methods in undergraduate neuroscience lab courses and research." at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

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