New undergraduate degree allows students to study neuroscience and the brain

By

Robert Ewing

Why do we do what we do? How do our brains enable us to make the choices that we do? How do we learn? What are emotions and how do they influence our behavior? How does perception even work?

The brain is the most complex structure that exists in the body and is central to everything that makes us human. Neuroscience, or the study of the nervous system and nerve cells (neurons), allows us to conduct interdisciplinary research on many of those key questions, along with investigating phenomena like perception, learning and memory, behavior, addiction and mental illness. 

The Arizona State University Department of Psychology is launching a new on-ground and online Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience this fall, designed to train the next generation of neuroscientists.

While the neuroscience degree had previously been a concurrent option in the past for undergraduate students, popular among students in life sciences and psychology, the program has been restructured as a stand-alone degree option for students who are interested in neuropsychology and neuroscience-specific careers.

The program features award-winning research faculty such as Foster Olive, a professor of psychology and director of the Addiction Neuroscience Laboratory, who is working to solve the puzzle of drug addiction, and Samuel McClure, professor of psychology and director of the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory, who researches the midbrain reward system and the functional role of the system in memory formation.  

“This degree is so exciting because it features courses developed and taught by faculty who are conducting research at the cutting edge in the field of neuroscience,” said Gene Brewer, associate professor of psychology and area head of the cognitive science PhD program at ASU. Brewer will also be teaching courses in the program that focus on data science, neuroimaging methods, attention and memory.

The neuroscience program provides students with the opportunity to learn about the basic systems of the brain and nervous system building on the foundations of biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and psychology. 

Courses include the Introduction to Neuroscience, Your Brain on Drugs, Neuroscience of Learning and Motivation, The Brain and Emotion, Biopsychology, and the Neuroscience of Perception.

The field of neuroscience is a relatively new area of study in scientific terms, with new advances in technology allowing researchers to analyze brain structures and electrical activity in specific brain regions, previously not deemed possible. Students in the program will learn about and experience many of these advancements. 

Gi-Yeul Bae, an assistant professor in the department who will be teaching a course on the Neuroscience of Perception, uses EEG (electroencephalography) data to decode spatial patterns of brain activity to understand the information content held in the brain — essentially reading minds through the brain’s electrical activity. 

“Understanding how the self emerges from the functioning of the nervous system is undoubtedly the great scientific challenge of our lifetimes," Brewer said. "We are pleased that ASU has recognized the many important possible outcomes from neuroscientific inquiry and has invested in this undergraduate program to help our students both in the Phoenix area and across the world become the next generation of leaders in our goal of understanding the brain.”

Applications are now being accepted for fall 2021 for both the online and on-campus programs.