How do you become a neuroscientist? What part of the brain can do math? How do drugs affect an unborn baby’s brain?
Last night’s speaker, Daniel Larson, a UTD neuroscience major, answered these and many other questions during the March 2nd meeting of the Dallas STEAM Explorers.
Daniel began his presentation by defining neuroscience as the study of how the brain controls voluntary and involuntary actions. He then outlined his twelve-year-long degree plan, which will take him from a bachelor’s in neuroscience to medical school and beyond.
Daniel continued by describing the different parts of the brain and their various functions, including the frontal cortex which controls planning and executive functions, and the occipital lobe which is in charge of vision. He also mentioned the cerebellum, which controls balance. If the cerebellum is damaged, it has the same effect as alcohol on balance. Another point of interest Daniel covered was Broca’s area, which aids in the production of speech. If Broca’s area is injured, the victim will be able to understand what is being said to them, but they will not be able to speak intelligibly. Daniel described the parts of a neuron as well, explaining the functions of axons, dendrites, and synapses.
Next, Daniel brought out two robot babies used to train nursing students. One baby simulated a newborn whose mother was addicted to crack cocaine. He explained that the baby would be born prematurely, and with cocaine withdrawal symptoms. In order to stop the withdrawal symptoms, doctors must give the baby crack cocaine, then slowly wean the infant off the drug again. The second robot baby that Daniel showed the audience exhibited the characteristics of a baby affected by fetal alcohol syndrome. He pointed out the missing groove between the nose and upper lip, and mentioned other facial differences these children have. Daniel was passionate about this particular aspect of neuroscience, and reminded students that substance abuse doesn’t just affect the person taking the drug, but can actually alter the brain of an unborn child in an irreversible way.
Daniel told the students about his academic journey, and the variety of educational and extra curricular activities which have prepared him for a career in medicine. For four years, he was a member of UT Southwestern’s STARS Exploring Post program, and served as President in 2012-2013. He also participated in their summer research program. In 2013, Daniel trained as an EMT (emergency medical technician), and for the past three years has volunteered as an EMT for the Children’s and Community Health Clinic in McKinney where he provides care to children who do not have other access to healthcare. Daniel taught neuroscience to freshman at UTD as a TA (teachers assistant), and is currently participating in organic chemistry research for Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn, exploring new treatments for diabetes and prostate cancer.
Daniel wrapped up the evening by encouraging students to nurture a lifetime love of learning, and to ignite their inner flame for knowledge and education.
Pursuing a degree in neuroscience, which is the scientific study of the brain and nervous system, can open the door to many exciting careers. Daniel will talk about why he chose neuroscience as his major, and some of the possibilities open to students interested in this field of study.
- Behavioral/cognitive neuroscientist—studies functions such as perception, learning, and memory
- Clinical neuroscientist— applies research to prevent and treat neurological disorders
- Developmental neuroscientist— studies how the brain grows and changes
- Medical doctor
- Neuroanatomist— studies the nervous system’s anatomy
- Neurobiologist— studies the nervous system’s biology
- Neurochemist— studies the nervous system’s chemistry
- Neuropathologist— studies nervous system diseases
- Neuropharmacologist— studies how different medicines affect the nervous system or behavior
- Neurophysiologist— studies the composition of the nervous system
- Neuropsychologist— studies relationships between the brain and behavior
- Neurosurgeon— performs surgery on the nervous system*
Daniel Larson, a junior at UT Dallas, is pursuing a degree in neuroscience to ultimately prepare him for medical school. His varied experiences have shaped his interest in a medical career. For example, Daniel participated in UT Southwestern’s STARS Program Exploring Post, where he was the president in 2012-2013. He also participated in UTSW’s summer research program. In 2013, Daniel trained as an EMT (emergency medical technician), and for the past three years has volunteered as an EMT for the Children’s and Community Health Clinic in McKinney where he provides care to children who do not have other access to healthcare. Daniel taught neuroscience to freshman at UTD as a TA (teachers assistant), and is currently participating in organic chemistry research for Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn, exploring new treatments for diabetes and prostate cancer.
In his free time, Daniel plays racquetball, designs board games, and plays the fiddle with his twin brother.
*By Peterson’s Staff, “Neuroscience Jobs Available in a Variety of Industries.”Peterson’s. Updated, Tuesday, November 05, 2013. Web, Wednesday, February 03, 2015.