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This a Podcast on Why Neuroscience belongs to STEM field...

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Dr. Steve Marini, Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, discusses the department's vision, which includes improving neuroscience education, serving the community, and conducting impactful research. He also mentions the use of AI in neuroscience research and the significance of neuroscience in the STEM field. Dr. Marini highlights an innovative teaching method using 3D printing of brain structures. He discusses the challenges of studying circuits and the treatment of neurological diseases. Undergraduate students are encouraged to gain hands-on experience in research labs and explore different career options. Dr. Marini defers to the chemistry department for organic chemistry education and advises students to seek assistance from the appropriate department. He mentions that physics is important for aspects of neuroscience, such as electrical measurements from the brain. Hello everyone, my name is Purnima Krishnamurthy. I'm an academic advisor in the department and a doctoral student in STEM education at the University of Pittsburgh. This recording was done on October 5th, 2023. This podcast interviews Dr. Steve Marini, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry. Dr. Marini is also the Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. With over five years of dedicated service to the University, Dr. Marini has played an instrumental role in shaping both undergraduate and graduate programs within the Department of Neuroscience. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Dr. Marini has actively involved in teaching neuroscience courses and conducting cutting-edge research. His commitment to education is evident through his engaging teaching style, which has left a lasting impact on countless students. Simultaneously, he consistently contributes to the field of neuroscience by publishing research papers on a regular basis. I found this podcast to be a valuable source of information that I can incorporate into my role as an undergraduate neuroscience student advisor at the University of Pittsburgh. Let's tune in to hear Dr. Steve Marini address some intriguing questions. Okay, here's my first question for you. What is the department's overarching vision that you think? So the department's vision divides really into three parts. We have teaching mission, and a vision there is to improve the delivery of neuroscience education to undergraduates and graduate students and postdocs, and basically we have lots of trainees at different levels. And there we're striving to constantly improve our teaching and training mission. Second is service. So we have a service element to our mission, which includes serving the community, serving others outside of our department. This includes outreach, this includes DEI committee that serves to look at what we're doing for the community, and this is something that's important to us as well. And we have committees that work on these aspects of service. Third, and perhaps the thing that takes the most effort among most of the tenured faculty, is research. Research is among tenure, tenure stream faculty, the number one mission. Takes up perhaps 80% of their time. And here we have to have a mission to perform what we would call world class impactful research that is funded by extramural grant applications from government and private agencies that pushes the knowledge base of our understanding of how the brain works, how the nervous system works, and how diseases that impact the brain create problems and can be treated. And so every faculty member has to develop a research program, and our mission in the department is to support that. Our goal is to support the most impactful, internationally recognized research as possible. That brings me to another question. What do you think about AI and neuroscience research? AI can be a useful tool in neuroscience research, especially computational neuroscience. And I think it is already being used by many people who do research. It's very good for, for example, dealing with very large data sets that are very difficult for people to sort through without some computer assisted method. In that sense, AI technology will be useful for a lot of those kinds of issues. Data management, data sorting, data analysis. Here's my next one. So what factors do you think lead you to regard neuroscience as belonging to the STEM field? Well, since neuroscience is defined as the science of the nervous system, and since STEM, the first letter is science, is basically the science of the nervous system in the brain and how that works. And so in that sense, neuroscience is integral and mainstream member of STEM. So I know that you're the department chair, and the definition that you gave is your perspective or as a chair overall for the department? I would say the perspective of neuroscience and STEM. I would say any neuroscientist in the country would say that. Okay. Thank you. Makes me feel better. All right. So something that you could highlight, any innovative teaching methods or initiatives your team or yourself has introduced to enhance the educational experience of our undergrad students? Yeah. So there's a variety of initiatives that our faculty have engaged in to what I would call develop novel and innovative teaching methods. And one of them is Erica Fanslow has developed and received a grant to develop 3D printing of various brain structures so that students can print individual brain structures in the classroom and handle them, fit them together. It aids in the teaching of anatomy because it provides a hands-on ability of students to manipulate brain anatomy in their hands with plastic models developed in 3D printing from models of real brain structures. So that has been very useful. Oh, that's wonderful. I mean, I'm learning too. So what do you believe are the most significant challenges and opportunities in terms of neuroscience today for our undergrad students? So I think the biggest challenges and opportunities in neuroscience are circuits and how essentially groups of neurons, which are circuits, can work together to explain higher order brain function. So for many years, we've had people studying higher order brain function, whether that be cognition, learning, memory. And then they usually do that with what I would call more gross approaches to studying function of the brain. And then we have people studying molecular biology of the brain. How does the nervous system carry out function of individual cells? So how do you go from function of individual cells to higher order brain processing? And what's in between those two is how cells individually work together in circuits to explain something more complicated. And so one of the frontiers and challenges of the future is connecting single cell and molecular work with higher order brain function. That's where we need people studying circuits. And we have people in the department studying circuits like Caroline Runyon. So that's one. And the second future, I would say, challenge and opportunity is treating neurological diseases and psychiatric disorders. These are all diseases that affect the brain. And so those of us who study any aspect of the nervous system usually are also studying a disease associated with that particular part of the nervous system. And we're trying to impact either our basic understanding of the pathophysiology of that disease and or developing new treatments to try to improve that disease treatment paradigm, which is usually begun in animal models of the diseases. And so those are the two major things. So is it like undergraduate students are learning these or hands-on in the research lab? Half of our undergraduates work in a functioning, one of our main research labs. And they're doing this work. They're on the forefront of this as team members. They obviously can't do it themselves. Neuroscience research is a collaborative effort. But the undergraduates are part of the team doing research experiments. So any one advice that you'd give our students early in their career for neuroscience? I think the most important thing is neuroscience is not only learned in the classroom. There's background you need to learn in the classroom. But perhaps the most important part is hands-on experience. You have to get out of the classroom, work in a laboratory, and understand from a real hands-on perspective how the nervous system works. It's different than just learning a textbook, you know. You have to have real experience. And so that's important for them to not only understand neuroscience better, but to choose a career. Because they have to decide, do I want to work in research? Do I want hands-on work in research? Do I want to work in medicine? What do I want to do? So not only do you have to work in a laboratory, you have to volunteer in a clinic. You have to shadow a doctor. You have to basically get experience outside the classroom in all the potential career options that you might want to explore. Because that's the only way you'll know if that's what you want to do. So that brings me to the question of organic chemistry education. What are your perspectives on the current organic chemistry situation with our students? You know, we see them struggling. So what are your perspectives on that? In my perspective, organic chemistry is a prerequisite for neuroscience. We don't teach it. And so I leave that to the chemistry department. It's not our mission to advise or assist in organic chemistry teaching or understanding by our students. That's the mission of the chemistry department. That brings me to the next question, as you just said, that we don't advise chemistry. But then general chemistry, organic one and two, as a neuroscience advisor, what would you give your thoughts to the advising department as what to do with our students? I would send them to the chemistry department. If you have any issues or problems that our students have with any aspect of chemistry. One reason is pre-med, you know, the one of the basic... They need it for pre-med. But we're not in the business of managing the teaching of organic chemistry or any chemistry. Our department mission does not include teaching our students chemistry. Now, as a university, it has to be done. But the different departments have responsibility for their own particular areas of focus and for chemistry issues. The chemistry department is in charge of that. Next question, physics and neuroscience. How do you think physics is important part of application of neuroscience concept? Well, for some aspects of neuroscience, physics is a background for what we do. That would include anyone doing electrical measurements from the brain. There you need to know some physics. And that's why we have physics as a prerequisite. And it's also a pre-med course because many aspects of how the body and brain function have a physics background that would aid in your understanding of those processes. So, just as in chemistry, you know, we trust the physics department to teach our students physics. When they come to neuroscience, if there's an aspect of physics that is important in my course, I will review the physics in my class in the area that it applies. So, if we're studying, for example, how a cell will use electricity to communicate, I might review some of the physics principles underlying that aspect of communication within the brain with the assumption that this is a review of material they've already been taught by the physics department. Is more of electricity related physics? Yeah. So, no mechanics involved? Well, there can be mechanical physics involved, not in the courses I teach, and not very commonly in most of our neuroscience courses. It would be more an aspect of motor function, which we don't teach a lot of muscle motor function. So, mechanical is not that important. Okay. Can you please share your perspective on the role of STEM education in shaping the future of neuroscience research? I mean, it's an essential component. Neuroscience is an essential component of STEM, and STEM education provides a lot of interesting background for neuroscience. One of the key messages about neuroscience is it's a study of basically the science of the brain, and that means that we attack the brain questions of function and dysfunction and disease and treatment from many different perspectives. Math, electricity, chemistry, lots of different techniques can be applied to neuroscience. So, neuroscience is not one that excludes any STEM field in terms of the ability for that STEM field to impact neuroscience, because any STEM subdiscipline could impact how we study the brain. You can study the brain using any chemistry, any molecular biology, any physics approach, any number of approaches could be used to study the brain, and all of them work complementary in a manner to help us learn more about the brain. So, the study of the brain is multidisciplinary. Absolutely, and that was another question that I had which you already mentioned. Yep, that's all I have. Thank you for your time today. Okay. Thank you.

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