Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system of humans or other animals. Neuroscientists study the physical and chemical processes of the brain and their relationships to the behavior and health of organisms. Many neuroscientists are physicians who study disorders of the human brain, such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia, and stroke. Others are trying to define what thoughts, feelings, and memories actually are and locate the specific parts of the brain that control speech, movement, our senses, and more.
Neuroscience requires a strong background in chemistry, physics, and biology, and it can also involve psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and other sciences. Neuroscientists must have a Ph.D. or M.D.
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Neuroscientist in Action
Dr. Rae Nishi
Title: Director, Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Vermont
Education: Ph.D., Biology, University of California, San Diego
Dr. Rae Nishi’s research proves that you do not need complicated technology, such as fMRIs, to make discoveries in neuroscience. Through observation and experiment, Dr. Nishi’s research tries to answer the question: What causes brain cells to die?
Although the question is too broad to answer completely, Dr. Nishi has discovered a molecule that seems to keep alive brain cells in dying chick embryos. She also found that by blocking a certain receptor on the surface of neurons, dying neurons will stop showing signs of decline. Studies of how and why brain cells might die are important in understanding Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, which cause certain areas of the brain to become inactive.
“There is no profession as exciting as being a scientist,” Dr. Nishi says. “You get to learn new things every day. You get to make discoveries. You get to solve puzzles.” Dr. Nishi is currently working to determine how the molecules released during one neuron’s death might trigger the growth of new, neighboring neurons.