Neurobiology

Professor Venkatesh N. Murthy, Head Tutor

Neurobiology, the study of the nervous system, is a field of science that investigates the biological mechanisms that underlie behavior. To develop a comprehensive understanding, we study the nervous system at every level from the macroscopic (behavior and cognition) to the microscopic (cells and molecules). Consequently, the questions that neurobiologists ask are wide-ranging. For example, how do electrical, chemical, and molecular signals allow neurons to process and transmit information from the environment? What guides the development of the immense number of precise connections in the nervous system? How can the complex signals of many thousands of active neurons be recorded and interpreted? What causes the profound behavioral deficits in Alzheimer’s disease or Autism Spectrum Disorders?

To answer these kinds of questions, neurobiologists study a variety of model systems including cultured cells, fruit flies, zebrafish, mice, monkeys, and even humans. Simpler systems allow experimental manipulations (e.g., gene knockouts/knockins, protein over/mis-expression, drug treatments, activity silencing) and invasive recording techniques (e.g., fluorescently labeling cells and proteins, electrically/optically recording neurons and networks, electron microscopy of the synapses and circuits). Studies in humans often focus on characterizing patterns of brain activity during development or disease using non-invasive recording techniques (fMRI and EEG). Neurobiologists may also use approaches from computer science and mathematics to analyze signals that arise from the brain or to understand the computational properties of neural networks. Thus, the study of neurobiology provides both a broad scientific training and a deep understanding of the biology of the nervous system. Given the diversity of interests in this field, the only prerequisite for students entering this concentration is an intense curiosity about the brain.

The Neurobiology curriculum includes a series of fundamental courses in the life and applied sciences. A central course on the neurobiology of behavior, Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) 80 lays out the body of knowledge in neurobiology. In advanced elective courses, students explore specific areas of neurobiology more deeply based on their interests. We now list over 40 advanced courses on a range of topics: cells and circuits, physiology, learning and memory, cognitive science, development, genetics, and disease and therapeutics. In addition to the course offerings, neurobiology is one of the most vibrant fields of research at Harvard, and students will have many opportunities for hands-on laboratory experience and independent research projects to complement and deepen their studies.

We also offer a Mind, Brain, and Behavior track. This track allows students to look beyond the biology of the brain and see how other disciplines (e.g., anthropology, economics, computer science, history of science, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology) approach the study of the mind.

REQUIREMENTS
Basic Requirements: 13 courses (52 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. Eight courses in biology and neurobiology:
        1. Life Sciences 1a (or Life and Physical Sciences A) and Life Sciences 1b
        2. One course chosen from the following: Life Sciences 2, MCB 52, MCB 60, MCB 63, MCB 64, MCB 65, MCB 68, OEB 53, SCRB 20, SCRB 25
        3. MCB 80 or MCB 81
        4. One course chosen from the following (recommended sophomore or junior year): OEB 57, MCB 105, MCB 115, or MCB 125
        5. Three advanced courses in neurobiology (chosen from a list maintained on the concentration website.
    2. Five courses in related fields:
        1. Three courses in physical sciences (Ordinarily, all courses in Chemistry, Physical Sciences, and Physics or Applied Physics fulfill this requirement or select courses in Computer Science, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Engineering Sciences, and Mathematics may also fulfill this requirement.)
        2. Two courses in math, applied math, or statistics. At least one course must be at the level of Math 1b or higher.
  2. Other Information:
    1. Advanced Placement: The Neurobiology concentration does not give AP credit.
    2. Pass/Fail: All requirements for the concentration must be taken for a letter grade.
    3. Tutorials: Different Neurobiology 101-level courses are offered each year. These tutorials are counted as advanced neurobiology courses. Neurobiology 101-level courses (full year 4 credit courses) are indivisible and cannot be divided or combined for credit. Only one tutorial may count towards the advanced neurobiology course requirement. Tutorial seminars that are offered each year are listed on the concentration website and in the course search in courses.my.harvard.edu.
    4. Other course credit: Ordinarily, Harvard Summer School courses (other than Chem S-20ab) may not count towards the concentration. Courses taken through study abroad programs may be counted by petition. Courses taken at other Harvard faculties (e.g., Harvard Medical School) may count for credit if the course is one of the approved advanced neurobiology courses; otherwise, it may be counted by petition.

Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14 courses (56 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. Same as Basic Requirements 1a & 1b
    2. Course in independent research (Neurobiology 91 or LS 100r). No more than two supervised research courses may be taken for concentration credit.
  2. Thesis: Optional for award of Honors or High Honors in Field, but required for Highest Honors in Field. The thesis is based on original research in neurobiology and is ordinarily conducted in a laboratory. In their final semester, students may also take Neurobiology 99, the thesis-writing tutorial, but it is not required. All students planning to submit a senior thesis must submit a short thesis proposal, usually during the spring term of junior year. The thesis proposal form is available on the concentration website. Members of the Committee on Degrees in Neurobiology evaluate theses based on input from the mentor and other faculty readers.

Requirements for Mind, Brain, and Behavior Track: 16 courses (64 credits) (Honors Only Track)

  1. Required courses:
    1. Same as Basic Requirements, except as noted below
    2. Two courses in physical sciences (Ordinarily, all courses include Chemistry, Physical Sciences, and Physics or Applied Physics fulfill this requirement or select courses in Computer Science, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Engineering Sciences, and Mathematics may also fulfill this requirement.)
    3. Two advanced courses in neurobiology (chosen from a list maintained on the concentration website.
    4. Course in independent research (Neurobiology 91 or LS 100r). No more than two supervised research courses may be taken for concentration credit.
    5. Neurobiology 99 (Honors Thesis Tutorial)
    6. Two approved Mind, Brain, and Behavior course electives chosen from a list maintained on the concentration website. Not all of the courses listed in the Mind, Brain, and Behavior course search in the courses.my.harvard.edu are appropriate MBB electives for Neurobiology concentrators.
  2. Seminar in Mind/Brain/Behavior: MBB 980: course, letter-graded, recommended junior year. Select one from a list on the concentration website that varies each year.
  3. Thesis: Required (see item 3 in Honors requirements)
  4. Other information: Students pursing the Mind, Brain, and Behavior track are also expected to participate in key university-wide Mind, Brain, and Behavior research activities, including the all-day MBB junior symposium and a non-credit senior year one-day seminar for Mind, Brain, and Behavior thesis writers. Students are encouraged to join the student organization Harvard Society for Mind, Brain, and Behavior (HSMBB).

ADVISING

Dr. Ryan Draft and Dr. Laura Magnotti, the neurobiology Concentration Advisers, are available to provide guidance to concentrators and pre-concentrators on course selection, laboratory research, and fulfilling concentration requirements. Visit http://lifesciences.fas.harvard.edu/neurobiology or contact Dr. Draft (BioLabs Room 1082a, 16 Divinity Ave., 617-496-9908, draft@fas.harvard.edu) or Dr. Magnotti (BioLabs Room 1082c, 16 Divinity Ave., 617-496-2432, magnotti@fas.harvard.edu) for more information. The Head Tutor and members of the Committee on Degrees in Neurobiology also provide mentoring on academic and career issues.

For up-to-date information on advising in Neurobiology, please see the Advising Programs Office website or the concentration website.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

Head Tutor of Neurobiology: Professor Venkatesh Murthy, BioLabs Room 4027, 16 Divinity Ave, 617-496-4833. Neurobiology Concentration Advisers: Dr. Ryan Draft, BioLabs 1082a, 16 Divinity Ave., 617-496-9908, draft@fas.harvard.edu; Dr. Laura Magnotti, BioLabs 1082c, 16 Divinity Ave., 617-496-2432, magnotti@fas.harvard.edu. More information about the Neurobiology concentration can also be found at http://lifesciences.fas.harvard.edu/neurobiology.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators20082009201020112012201320142015
Neurobiology*157207227253228230207205

 

 

*Neurobiology does not participate in joint concentrations.