NeuroFrontiers: A brainy confluence of role-playing students and alumni

The logo for the 2017 NeuroFrontiers Workshop was created by neuroscience and biology junior Rosemary Thomas '18
April 11, 2017

Noted University of Chicago neuroscientist Dr. Ellie Hecksher and several Lake Forest College alumni will be the highlight of the 15th NeuroFrontiers Workshop on April 29 at Lake Forest College. This workshop celebrates the capstone research projects of four biology and neuroscience courses and the induction of new members of the college’s chapter of Nu Rho Psi, the national neuroscience honorary.

One faculty member (Professor of Biology Anne Houde) and eight biology and psychology alumni (Lennard Wahlberg ’02, M.B.A, Dr. Sara Herrera ’05, M.D., Dr. David Mann ’05, M.D., Michael Wollar ’07, M.S., Caitlin Paluska Lawrence ’07, J.D., Dr. Ryne Debo ’08, Ph.D., Stephanie Valtierra, A.B.D., and Dr. Geoff Weiner ’08, Ph.D.) will be honored.

What is Nu Rho Psi?

Nu Rho Psi is the National Honor Society in Neuroscience, founded in 2006 by the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience. The Lake Forest College Chapter became the 26th member of this national organization in spring 2012.

Fifteen current neuroscience majors, eight biology and psychology alumni, and one faculty member will be inducted as 2017 members of the society at 4:00 PM:

Niam Abeysiriwardena ’20
Danielle Berninzoni ’20
Nena Fasbender ’20
Samuel Gascoigne ’20
Brett Palmero ’20
Cade Brittain ’19
Samuel Curry ’19
Yoan Ganev ’19
Catherine Harding ’19
Eliska Mrackova ’19
Chisomo Mwale ’19
Rebecca Shoup ’19
Schuyler Kogan ’18
Joseph Bortolotti ’17
Sierra Smith ’17
Lennard Wahlberg ’02, M.B.A.
Dr. Sara Herrera ’05, M.D.
Dr. David Mann ’05, M.D.
Michael Wollar ’07, M.S.
Caitlin Paluska Lawrence ’07, J.D.
Dr. Ryne Debo ’08, Ph.D.
Stephanie Valtierra, A.B.D.
Dr. Geoff Weiner ’08, Ph.D.

What is NeuroFrontiers?

Now in its 15th year, this unique public conference is sponsored by the Department of Biology and the Neuroscience Program. Students of several neuroscience and biology courses present their final research projects at this venue. Among them is Senior Seminar NEUR/BIOL480 Neural Frontiers whose students present a non-traditional final exam  On the first day of class, each student was assigned a world leader in a sub-field of neuroscience to role-play. Through the course of the semester, the student researched, read, and synthesized the major papers published by the scientist over his/her scientific career to deeply understand how scientific knowledge accrues over time and how an individual scientist can make important biomedical contributions.  In this process, each student typically read 30-40 articles published over a span 2-3 decades.

During the workshop, each role-playing student becomes the scientist and presents a professional 30-minute seminar on the career-length contributions to neuroscience. The student also authors a review article on this topic that is published in the in-house annual NeuroFrontiers journal, now its fifteenth edition.

A noted Chicago-area neuroscientist is invited to participate in the entire workshop, present her own research as the workshop’s Keynote Address, and to facilitate scientific dialogue between each role-playing student as they critically integrate individual scientist seminars into the broader context of understanding the complex relationship between brain, mind and behavior and the current challenges and the future of biomedicine.

Over 200 students have participated in this workshop since 1998, with more than a hundred of them headed for or already pursuing careers in biomedicine.

The Fifteenth NeuroFrontiers Workshop, April 29, 7:30 am - 5:15 pm

- 4:30 PM
Dr. Ellie Hecksher, Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Chicago, will deliver the keynote address. She studies the fruit fly embryonic and larval motor system to understand the development and function of motor circuits that allow animals to move. Dr. Hecksher received her Ph.D. in Cell Biology in 2007 from the University of California San Francisco and her B.Sc. from Brown University. From 2007-15, she trained as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oregon.  As a graduate student she received a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute predoctoral fellowship and as a postdoctoral fellow she was awarded an American Heart Association Fellowship. She has previously taught undergraduate courses at Dickinson College, where she mentored undergraduates in research. At the University of Chicago, Dr. Hecksher is a member of the Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior.


Registration: Hotchkiss Lobby: 7:30 AM, Coffee, Juice, Bagels

Introduction: 7:50 AM, Alexandra Skoczek ’18 and Parth Tank ’18, Workshop Co-Chairs

Session I: Sensory and Cognitive Frontiers, Meyer Auditorium, 8:00 am – 10:30 am

1. Dr. Linda Buck, University Washington,  “Decoding Smell: How 100s of genes detect 1000s of odors”, role-played by Ms. Emma Levine ’18

2. Dr. David Julius, UC San Francisco, “Sensing cold, heat, pain, and toxins: An astonishing array of channels”, role-played by Mr. Abdullah Basith ’17 and Mr. Jeremy Berg ’17

3.Dr. Charles Zuker, Columbia University, “Molecular sensors, codes and circuits behind seeing, tasting and feeling”, role-played by Ms. Malia Hansen ’17 & Mr. Mustafa Rahman ’17

4. Dr. Ursula Bellugi, The Salk Institute, “A Blessing and a Curse: How missing genes cause Williams Syndrome”, role-played by Ms. Kristina Karapetyan ’17 & Mr. Scott Johnston ’17

5. Dr. Stephen Warren, Emory University, “A Fragile Tale: How expanded CGGs in FMR1 lead to intellectual disability”, role-played by Ms. Pooja Acharya ’17 & Mr. Kojo Osafo ’17

Session II: Thesis Frontiers, Meyer Auditorium,10:30 AM - 11:15 AM

6. Mr. Geoff Weiner ’08, University of California San Diego, “Neurons and blood vessels: Partners in CNS development

7. Ms. Emily Ong ’17, “Parkinson’s Disease: Discovering why familial mutants are toxic”

Session III: Posters I and Lunch, Mohr Balcony, 11:15 AM - 12:15 noon

BIOL/NEUR362 Mechanisms of Brain, Six poster-based exhibit presentations: Epilepsy, Schizophrenia, Neurofibromatosis, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Autism


Session IV: RNA and Neurodegeneration Frontiers, Meyer Auditorium, 12:30-2:00 pm

8. Dr. Gideon Dreyfuss, University of Pennsylvania, “Splicing errors, SMN loss of function, and motor ruin: The SMA Story”, role-played by Ms. Daria Polyarskaya ’18 & Ms. Rachel Hastings ’17

9. Dr. Stephen Strittmatter, Yale University, “Regeneration is a go with NOGO: Promising future for injury and disease”, role-played by Ms. Brittany Avonts ’17 & Mr. Milan Bozic ’17

10. Dr. Huda Zoghbi, Baylor College of Medicine, “Consequences of Imbalance: SCA1, Rett Syndrome, and Development”, role-played by Ms. Logan Graham ’17

Session V: Beta Beta Beta Alumni Career Panel
, Meyer Auditorium, 2:00-2:45 pm

Mr. Lennard Wahlberg ’03, M.B.A.   Practice Manager, North shore University Health System, IL

Dr. Sara Herrera ’05, M.D.   Surgical Critical Care Fellow, University of Iowa, IA

Dr. David Mann ’05, M.D.   Anesthesiologist, Advocate Sherman Hospital, IL

Mr. Michael Wollar ’07, M.S.  GLP-QA Analyst, Covance Research Corp, Madison, WI

Ms. Caitlin Paluska Lawrence ’07, J.D.   Assistant State’s Attorney, Peoria, IL

Dr. Ryne Debo ’08, Ph.D.   Ph.D. in Molecular Medicine and Translational Medicine, Wake Forest University, NC

Ms. Stephanie Valtierra ’08,  PhD studies in Neuroscience, Northwestern University, IL

Dr. Geoff Weiner ’08, Ph.D.  PhD studies in Neuroscience, MSTP Program, University of California San Diego, CA


Session IV: Posters I and Nu Rho Psi Reception: 2:45-3:45 pm, Mohr Balcony

BIOL/NEUR130 Deadly Shapes, Hostage Brains will present three poster-based exhibit presentations on frontotemporal dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease

BIOL/NEURL346 Molecular Neuroscience will present eight posters on inquiry-based research projects in neuronal cell culture growth and differentiation


Public Reception

Induction of New Members (Students, Alumni, and faculty)

Recognition of 2017 Senior Class

Presentation of the 2017 Nu Rho Psi Neuroscience Leadership and Service Award

KEYNOTE LECTURE 4:45-5:30 PM, McCormick Auditorium

Maggots on the Move: Neural Control of Drosophila Larval Crawling

Dr. Ellie Hecksher, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, The University of Chicago


News Contact

Shubhik K. DebBurman, PhD
Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, Lake Forest College
Ph: (847)-735-6040