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Neuroscience: From Brain to Behaviors

Department: Neuroscience                          

Instructor: Alessandra Porcu
Instructor Email:
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

This course offers an exciting introduction to neuroscience. Through a combination of lecture, laboratory experiments, and group projects, students will explore how the brain works and how neuroscientists design experiments to discover new brain functions. This class will begin with an introduction to the anatomy of the brain, the neurons that compose it, and the methods of communication between these neurons. Then, students will explore how changes in the environment (sensory cues) are represented by the brain and processed to produce appropriate behaviors (motor outputs). Finally, students will investigate disorders of the nervous system to better understand the devastating consequences of any disruption to the complex functioning of the brain. Many sub-fields of neuroscience will be explored in this course to provide a broad overview of how the brain works, which should be useful to everyone, but especially to students interested in medicine, biology, psychology, chemistry or neuroscience.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, students will be familiar with the different anatomical structures of the brain, the structure and function of neurons, and mechanisms of neurotransmission. Students will also gain an understanding of sensory and motor neuroscience and various disorders of the nervous system. Students will learn to research the existing literature, develop hypotheses based on previous findings and test the hypotheses by conducting laboratory experiments.


This is a pre-college course. Students are expected to be engaged in the class and to be active participants in all class discussions. Students are expected to participate in all lab exercises and complete lab reports and readings on time. Students must also contribute equally to all aspects of the work in the group project (topic selection, background research, hypothesis development, experimental design, conclusions and oral presentation). Evaluation will be based on participation in class discussions and lab exercises, as well as completion of lab reports and projects. Students will be respectful of their professors, other students and all lab equipment.

Course Outline

Week 1

  • Introduction to neuroscience:
    • history of neuroscience
    • the brain and neuroanatomy
    • neuron morphology and function
  • Comparative anatomy
  • Developmental neuroscience and neural plasticity
  • Experimental techniques in neuroscience
  • Field trip to neural imaging lab

Week 2

  • Topics in sensory and motor neuroscience:
    • Chemosensation (smell and taste)
    • Audition
    • Vision
    • Somatosensation
    • The motor system
  • Language
  • Attention
  • Sleep

Week 3

  • Learning and memory
  • Motivation and reward
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Addiction and psychiatric disorders
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Course reflections, neuroscience careers discussion and review game


*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.