Spotlight on: Contemporary Issues in Neuroscience

‘The brain is the last frontier of human biology. The functioning of the brain makes us what we are. The brain enables us survive as an individual and as a species, to react to the changing environment, to store and retrieve information from the past and make decisions accordingly. Such complex machinery could only work properly if it is very plastic and is able to change and repair itself.’

This is the enticing introduction for the Contemporary Issues in Neuroscience course. Over four weeks, the course considers four major issues that are currently in the forefront of brain research: humans drives, stress, memory and repair. Two leading academics, Prof Tim Bussey and Prof Joe Herbert are able to introduce the topics by offering a whistle-stop tour of the literature and, at times, sharing examples of their own research.

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In one seminar on the functioning of memory, Prof Bussey talked about his own experiments to test the role of the hippocampus in memory. Put simply, he gets rats to perform simple games on iPads, touching then with their noses. In return, they receive a strawberry milkshake reward when they get the answers correct. This kind of story gives students an appreciation of how experimental psychology is actually conducted in a world-class research institute.

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At an event earlier in the year, Prof Bussey said of teaching on PKP:

What’s distinctive about the course is certainly not me – it’s the students. They come from all sorts of different places with different backgrounds but I relate to them because I come from Canada. Just as I did when I first came to Cambridge, they are getting a dual education. In this class they are learning about science, but they are also getting to know a new country. It’s quite fun because we talk a lot about what brought them here. The differences in background does provide some challenges. I am teaching neuroscience but my class might contains Egyptian philosophers and Chinese engineers and to pitch the lessons at the right level is challenging, but it is great fun too.

For more information on the course, see our website.

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