Norwich University announces new academic major in neuroscience

NORWICH UNIVERSITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS

December 14, 2015

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Norwich University officials announced that beginning Fall 2016 the university will offer a new major of academic study, a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience.

A field that is interdisciplinary in nature, the Neuroscience program will expose students to a rapidly growing field at the intersection of Biology and Psychology, while also providing students a firm background in Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. Neuroscience graduates will draw knowledge from a variety of specialties, effectively mastering the human nervous system from cellular, molecular, biochemical, cognitive and behavioral perspectives.

“Educating students about the human nervous system in health and disease will prepare them for managing the public health challenges of our global population,” Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Doczi says.

The director of the neuroscience program, Doczi conducts research into the developmental regulation of potassium ion channels in avian hypothalamic neurons, funded by the Vermont Genetics Network.

When asked why students should study neuroscience, Doczi said: “I think that unknown component of the nervous system and the brain, in particular, is what draws me to the discipline. And I hope I communicate that enthusiasm to my students as well. I just love when they ask questions that I can’t answer. Because nobody can answer some of the questions that they’re asking, and those are the questions that need to be asked.”

The new major will be housed in the College of Science and Mathematics.

Read more about Doczi and her thoughts on neuroscience here.

˜˜˜About Norwich University 

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). www.norwich.edu

In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders and captains of industry, the Forging the Future campaign is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities. Learn more about the campaign and how to participate in the “Year of Transformation” here: bicentennial.norwich.edu.    

Media Contact:
Daphne Larkin
Assistant Director of Communications
Office Tel: (802) 485-2886
Mobile: (802) 595-3613
dlarkin@norwich.edu

Office Tour: Neuroscientist and Biology Professor Megan Doczi, PhD

Prof Megan Doczi smiles as she displays famous scientist finger puppets to the camera
Norwich University Office of Communications

October 14, 2015

Norwich University Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Doczi can recall the exact moment she fell in love with neuroscience. It happened during high school, when a psychology class she took as an elective reached the second chapter of the course textbook, which covered the neuron. In the lab, Doczi studies ion channels in avian hypothalamus neurons and the pathways that regulate feeding behavior and appetite. In the classroom, she teaches both anatomy and physiology and neuroscience courses and directs the university’s neuroscience minor and concentration programs. Below, a tour of her office in nine objects.

tough_mudder_skull1. Human Skull
Gift from Lauryn DePaul, a student in the first anatomy and physiology class Doczi taught when she arrived in 2011. “Someone in her family had acquired this. I think they were a dentist.” Doczi repaired the broken skull with superglue. She added the Tough Mudder 2014 headband after completing the 10-mile obstacle course with friends last year. “It’s definitely a fusion between the outdoor enthusiast in me and the anatomist and neuroscientist in me.”

2. Fluffy Brain Toy
“It’s a stuffed brain. I also have a stuffed heart and a neuron.” They belong to her collection of gifts and “nerdy stuff” people have given Doczi over the years.

3. UVM Doctorate
“That was six years of really hard work and a beautiful institution. I value that quite a bit.” Doczi says the frame cost several hundred dollars and was probably her most expensive purchase as a graduate student.

doczi_einstein4. Famous Scientist Finger Puppets
Albert Einstein, Madame Currie, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Magnets are on the back. “They were gifts from one of my family members back in graduate school.”

5. Child’s Drawing
A gift from the daughter of Biology department colleague Karen Hinkle. Last year, Doczi won the Peggy R. Williams Emerging Professional Award from Vermont Women in Higher Education. “Willoughby drew me a picture and said congratulations on winning your award. It was the cutest thing. I think that speaks to the collegiality we have in the department and the university as a whole.”

DNA art6. DNA Art
A PhD graduation gift from friends. “They bought me this DNA artwork package. That’s my DNA from a cheek swab that was sent to a company. They ran a fragmentation and a gel electrophoresis on my own DNA, and I got to choose the color. It just looks cool. It’s really sciencey, and it’s from two really good friends of mine.”

7. Eppendorf Pippettes
Carousel of pipettes in 2.5 through 1,000 microliter sizes for dispensing precise volumes of liquid during lab work. Bought with leftover funds so that more students could work in the lab simultaneously.

neuro_bliss8. Neuro Bliss Energy Drink
Label on can claims contents help reduce stress, enhance memory and support a positive outlook. “The irony is that no drink is going to do that. But it’s cool, because it says ‘Neuro Bliss’ on it.”

9. CDs and Playlist
Depeche Mode, mix CDs from friends, Pandora, Spotify, independent radio stations. Guilty pleasure: Lady Gaga, including “Born This Way” and concerts in Montreal and Madison Square Garden. Last album purchased: “I haven’t downloaded anything in a long time. This is so embarrassing. This is where it stalls.”

Photographs by Mark Collier, Norwich University Office of Communications

Undergraduate Research: A Summer-Long Immersion in Molecular Biology

Senior biology major Maciel Porto was one of 28 Norwich University undergraduates awarded Summer Research Fellowships to explore diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Developed by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

September 17, 2015

This summer, rising senior Maciel Porto spent 10 weeks in the lab investigating leptin receptors in the avian hypothalamus and their potential role in regulating appetite.

The hypothalamus is a small area of the brain that plays a big role regulating energy balance, body temperature, satiety, heart rhythm, sleep patterns and other essential body functions.

Activated by the hormone leptin, leptin receptors are gene-encoded proteins connected to fat metabolism.

Did decreasing food supplies influence the genetic expression of leptin receptors over time in chicken embryos? That was a question the biology major from San Antonio, Tex., wanted to explore.

Porto focused his summer research project on measuring leptin and leptin receptors in the hypothalamuses of embryonic chickens between 8 and 14 days old.

“In avian models leptin and its receptor, theoretically, have the same functions as those within mammals,” Porto notes. “The mystery to the receptors presence within the chicken genome presents many questions.”

Porto worked in the lab of his faculty advisor, Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Doczi, a neuroscientist who also studies avian hypothalamus tissue to investigate the developmental regulation of potassium ion channels in neurons.

Porto’s own research employed state-of-the-art procedures used in molecular biology labs around the world.

Starting with micro-dissection of embryonic chicken brains to extract the hypothalamus, Porto isolated RNA from the tissue samples. He then synthesized what’s known as copy, or C-DNA, to determine if genes for leptin receptors were expressed.

Porto then tested c-DNA primers, the “short segments of base pairs of nucleotides that kind of align with a specific section of a gene,” Porto says.

Using a procedure called agarose gel electrophoresis, Porto then separated the genetic material by molecular size.

Adding ethidium bromide enabled Porto to tag DNA fragments and fluoresce them under UV light, creating a visual bar code for the genes expressed in the sample cell tissue.

While Porto initially identified a difference in the abundance of leptin receptors in chicken embryos that were 8 and 14 days old, he found no statistically significant change in gene expression between younger and old embryos overall.

“This proposes a more in depth study of relative change of LEPR gene expression, which would include more samples for each time period,” Porto concluded in a final research paper on his study.

Porto says his summer research fellow experience taught him the value of even the smallest data discovery and the volume of contributions required to solve big research questions.

“I also realized that although my findings were astronomical in my eyes, this was only a ten-week timeline, in which is a fraction compared to other researchers,” he says.

“It put things into perspective on how much work and dedication it really takes to provide a contribution within the research profession.”

Porto says he plans to enter a research or graduate program to study immunology when he graduates from Norwich this spring.

Related Articles on Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows:

5 Questions for … Norwich Neuroscience Professor Megan Doczi

Norwich University Office of Communications

September 9, 2015

Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Doczi, PhD, arrived at Norwich in 2011, shortly after receiving her PhD from the University of Vermont. She directs the neuroscience program at NU and teaches neuroscience and anatomy and physiology classes in the Department of Biology. Her research into the developmental regulation of potassium ion channels in avian hypothalamus neurons is funded by the Vermont Genetics Network. Outgoing, energetic and very busy, Doczi spent the summer writing research papers, supervising lab work, planning courses, and mentoring two undergraduate research fellows. We spoke to her recently in her second-floor office in Bartoletto Hall, amid the odd piece of lab equipment and quirky science art.

What sparked your interest in neuroscience?

The easiest and most heart-felt answer is high school psychology, I took this psych course with a few friends of mine as an elective. The instructor was a practicing psychologist and really, really interested in her discipline. Chapter two of our textbook was the neuron, and I just got stuck on that second chapter. I was like, “Wow, these neurons are amazing. I didn’t even realize how complicated these cells were. They’re so different than any other cells in the human body and I want to learn all I can about them.” So that was it. High school. I’ve been on the neuroscience track ever since.

What excites you about the field today?

The speed at which the technology is developing. We now have technology that we didn’t have ten or even five years ago, which is so much better at attacking the questions: How is consciousness even a phenomenon? How can neural networks communicate with each other? How are individual neurons able to metabolize different nutrient sources like glucose as a readout of their activity? We now have the capability of asking a patient a question and seeing what part of their brain lights up. The technology is just phenomenal and beyond what we could have imagined in the field decades before.

What questions do you explore in your research?

Personally I’m interested in ion channels, the small little proteins in the membranes of neurons that allow ions to flow through at different rates. They control the way neurons communicate with each other. So you can imagine if you have more or less of these channels, it will affect the function of the neuron itself.

The set of neurons that we’re interested in looking at are part of feeding behaviors and the circuitry for food intake and energy expenditure in animals. So the main question of the lab is, If the expression and function of these individual ion channels changes in that population of neurons, will it actually change the behavior downstream of the animal? We’re looking at developmental time points. The model system we use in the lab is the embryonic chicken, which is really nice. Because what we can do is study early, mid and late gestational time points and see if the channels are changing. There’s a lot of evidence in the literature today that what happens during development impacts what happens as an adult. So if these organisms are exposed to high levels of hormones or metabolic factors, they might actually develop the neuronal circuitry in a different way that could even result in disease in adulthood.

What’s your pitch to students? Why study neuroscience?

There’s a lot known about most systems in the human body. We’re pretty comfortable explaining how the cardiovascular system works and developing pharmaceuticals to change blood pressure, etc. You can use that analogy for other similar systems. But we still don’t understand what actually happens in the nervous system to create things like consciousness or to instill survival skills in today’s society, for example. What makes someone more resilient than someone else? Or personality characteristics? All those things are still unknown. You can’t just give a pill and fix the nervous system like you might be able to with other systems of the human body.

I think that unknown component of the nervous system and the brain, in particular, is kind of what draws me to the discipline. And I hope I communicate that enthusiasm to my students as well. I just love when they ask questions that I can’t answer. Because nobody can answer some of the questions that they’re asking, and those are the questions that need to be asked.

Any parting thoughts?

It’s important for students to be scholars and lifelong learners. It’s important to our society to have curious thinkers, free thinkers who don’t take information at face value but know how to critically analyze that information, fact-check that information. And that goes beyond neuroscience. That’s just making an informed citizen. There are so many hot topics today. Climate change is one of them. Vaccination is another. If we can just basically graduate students who know how to think about information, challenge information, and even create new information based off of researching topics, then we’ve done our job, regardless of discipline.

So when you graduate from Norwich, I don’t care if you’re a neuroscientist, a chemist, a literary scholar, or a historian, as long as you know how to really analyze information, ask the right question and move society in a positive direction, I think that’s really what I’m interested in as a professor and what a lot of other faculty members are interested in here.