Professor Venkatesh N. Murthy, Head Tutor
Neurobiology, the study of the nervous system, is a field of science that investigates the biological mechanisms that underlie behavior. To develop a comprehensive understanding, the nervous system is studied at every level from the macroscopic (behavior and cognition) to the microscopic (cells and molecules). Consequently, the questions that neurobiologists ask are wide-ranging. For example, how do electrical, chemical, and molecular signals allow neurons to process and transmit information from the environment? What guides the development of the immense number of precise connections in the nervous system? How can the complex signals of many thousands of active neurons be recorded and interpreted? What causes the profound behavioral deficits in Alzheimer’s disease or Autism Spectrum Disorders?
To answer these kinds of questions, neurobiologists study a variety of model systems including cultured cells, fruit flies, zebrafish, mice, monkeys, and even humans. Simpler systems allow experimental manipulations (e.g., gene knockouts/knockins, protein over/mis-expression, drug treatments, activity silencing) and invasive recording techniques (e.g., fluorescently labeling cells and proteins, electrically/optically recording neurons and networks, electron microscopy of synapses and circuits). Studies in humans often focus on characterizing patterns of brain activity during development or disease using non-invasive recording techniques (fMRI and EEG). Neurobiologists may also use approaches from computer science and mathematics to analyze signals that arise from the brain or to understand the computational properties of neural networks. Thus, the study of neurobiology provides both a broad scientific training and a deep understanding of the biology of the nervous system. Given the diversity of interests in this field, the only prerequisite for students entering this concentration is an intense curiosity about the brain.
The Neurobiology curriculum includes a series of foundational courses in the life and applied sciences. Two central courses on the neurobiology of behavior, Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) 80 and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) 57, lay out the body of knowledge in neurobiology and its connections to a variety of different disciplines. In advanced elective courses, students explore specific areas of neurobiology more deeply based on their interests. We now list over 40 advanced courses on a range of topics: cells and circuits, physiology, learning and memory, cognitive science, development, genetics, and disease and therapeutics. In addition to the course offerings, neurobiology is one of the most vibrant fields of research at Harvard, and students will have many opportunities for hands-on laboratory experience and independent research projects to complement and deepen their studies.
We also offer a Mind, Brain, and Behavior track. This track allows students to look beyond the biology of the brain and see how other disciplines (e.g., anthropology, economics, computer science, history of science, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology) approach the study of the mind.
A complete description of the concentration requirements may be found within the Harvard College Handbook for Students.