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Senior Seminar: The Nobel Prizes

Philip Freund
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045

Last semester, I took The Nobel Prizes senior seminar with Dr. Ann Maine. Dr. Maine’s seminar is an intense semester wherein the research pursuits of various Physiology or Medicine Nobel prize winners are dissected and discussed. During this course, we delved into the research of famous 20th century Nobel prize winners, jumping across various sub-disciplines and topics to highlight a diversity of discoveries.


We started off at the beginning of the 20th century by discussing the work of the first decade of winners utilizing an assigned reading, Microbe Hunters. This text showcased the life and research of early 20th century microbiologists in a humorous (and, arguably, slanderous) light, including Koch and Cajal. Microbe Hunters contrasted sharply with the primary research articles we read that provided a very different picture of research. In addition, the first few weeks of the semester were spent learning about the Nobel Prizes themselves, including the powerful Karolinska institute and Nobel’s will. Understanding the Nobel Prizes turned out to be critical while reading the work of winners, as we were able to imagine the thought process of those that pushed for certain researchers to receive the prize.


We then moved to a broader range of topics, such as the works of Banting and Carrel, whose discoveries (though more medical in nature) are still important to understand for a student interested in basic science research. We also looked at some of the fundamental basic science research, including Watson, Crick, Wilkens, and Franklin’s discovery of the structure of DNA and T.H. Morgan’s work with the spatial distribution of genes within a chromosome. Much of these scientist’s research is taken for granted by students today, but the clever logic and complex experimentation required to reach their Nobel-winning conclusions is deserving of our attention.


One of the highlights of the course was the students’ teaching. We would prepare presentations on a few Nobel winners and their work, as well as related modern research. My partner in the class (Catherine Harding ) and I oriented our presentations towards neuroscience winners. We discussed the work of Hubel, Sperry, and Wiesel, who won for their research into the neuroscience of vision. As a modern follow-up to this work, we showcased a study into how verbal cures alter visual processing. These presentations were one of the highlights of the class for me, as I was able to research a topic that I love and learn more about the neuroscientists that preceded me.


For the final projects, pairs of students would choose scientists that they felt were deserving of the 2019 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine. Catherine and I chose Bliss, Lømo, and Andersen, who discovered and pioneered research into long-term potentiation (LTP), one of the most famous cases of synaptic plasticity. This project culminated in an individually-written 22-page paper that gave an overview of Bliss, Lømo, and Andersen’s research, the modern follow-up to this research, and a proposal for future experimental avenues.


Dr. Maine’s class taught me more than I could have ever hoped about biology research and the scientists that conducted it. One of our books, “Nobel Prize Women in Science”, highlighted well the contribution of female scientists to major discoveries, as did one of our assignments, where we interviewed female faculty members at LFC. I would recommend this course to any biology or neuroscience major seeking to learn about topics outside of their comfort zone and to understand the lives of important scientists. Having written over 150 pages of papers and spent many hours doing presentations for this class, I have been able to hone my writing and speaking abilities in preparation for graduate school.


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