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Mary Morrison, Ph.D.

Assistant professor

of biology

When did you first become

interested in science?

The first time I remember being

drawn to science as a dynamic process,

rather than as a list of facts or a series of

predetermined instructions, was during

a middle school project on archaeology.

Mr. Sugamele pushed all the desks to

the outside of the room, and for about

a week we students had to conduct a

“dig” to explore his manmade reduced-

scale archaeological site. I have to thank

him for opening up a whole new world

of career possibilities, and making me

realize that people with passion can

discover new things that go way beyond

what’s written in textbooks.

What has been your most

rewarding project or

accomplishment at Lycoming?

I’m proud of the new biology

department curriculum, with its multiple-

track system that gives our students

more flexibility to prepare for graduate

and medical school. I’m proud of the

developmental neuroscience research

group I’ve created here, with alumni

who have gone on to training in clinical

neurology, basic neuroscience research,

veterinary school, dental school and

medical technology positions. And

I’m especially proud of the new

interdisciplinary neuroscience minor, a

collaborative effort between the biology,

psychology, sociology and philosophy

departments, which will

launch in fall 2013.

What do you enjoy most about

teaching biology?

I love all of the “a ha” moments.

Working with undergraduate students is

wonderful. Most of what they are learning

is new and exciting to them. Seeing their

excitement when they make connections

between concepts they’ve learned in

different classes, or when they find

bridges between the primary scientific

literature and what they are discovering in

the lab with their own hands, is priceless.

What are you currently

working on?

My current project is bringing the

latest neuroscience research on learning

into daily practice, for all of my courses.

It’s not enough to present information –

real education involves giving students

a chance to practice and challenge what

they think they’ve learned, to go right

up to the edge of our current state of

knowledge and ask what’s next and what

we need to do to go further.

In the research lab, we are finishing

up some work on the development of

Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum – the

wrinkly part at the back of our brain

that coordinates motion and balance.

The function of these Purkinje neurons

depends heavily on their structure. They

have highly-branched extensions called

dendrites that collect information about

body position in space and time. When

these dendrites don’t develop properly, or

when they begin to degenerate, they cause

cerebellar ataxias – lack of coordination

of movement, including loss of the

ability to read. My research group’s goal

is to understand the development and

degeneration of these Purkinje neuron

dendrites, so that maybe someday we’ll be

able to stop degeneration, or even trigger

restoration of dendrites that have become

abnormal.

As the co-coordinator of the

new neuroscience minor, why

do you believe this growing

field is so important?

Neuroscience is a growing field

worldwide. We live in an era of

unprecedented access to the brain, thanks

to technological advances in microscopic

imaging and genetic engineering. For

students headed for health professions, a

broad-based knowledge of neuroscience

will help them to diagnose, treat and

motivate their clients. Particularly for

premedical students, the new neuroscience

minor will help them to prepare for the

new version of the Medical College

Admissions Test (MCAT) that will be

administered starting in 2015.

About Morrison

Morrison earned a bachelor’s degree

in molecular biology from Princeton

University in 1986 and a Ph.D. in

microbiology from Columbia University

in 1993, where she also was a postdoctoral

fellow in neuroscience. Morrison

has studied the development of the

cerebellum, a brain region responsible for

balance and coordination of motion, and

has supervised numerous students doing

independent studies and honors projects

involving projects relating to brain

development.

“Neuroscience

is a growing field

worldwide.

We live in an era

of unprecedented

access to the brain,

thanks to technological

advances in microscopic

imaging and genetic

engineering.”

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LYCOMING COLLEGE 2013 SUMMER MAGAZINE