|Neuroscience, sometimes referred to as Neural Science, is the study of the human nervous system, how the nervous systems works, how it is structured and how it develops. Scientists who dedicate themselves to the study of neuroscience are known as Neurscientists. The large majority of neuroscientists focus their research on the brain and how it influences cognitive function and behavior. Neuroscience not only seeks to understanding how the nervous system functions under normal circumstances, but also how the nervous system functions in individual suffering from neurological, neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders.|
According to the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) the three main objectives of neuroscience are to:
Historically, neuroscience has been classified as a subdivision of biology. Today it is an interdisciplinary science aligned closely with other disciplines including psychology, medicine, linguistics, chemistry, philosophy, engineering, mathematics and even computer science. Some researcher still purport that neuroscience is the same as neurobiology but neuroscience encompasses much more.
Modern day neuroscientists are involved in a greater scope of fields and study than ever before. Not only do they study cellular aspects of the nervious system, but also functional, evolutionary, molecular, computational and medical aspects.
A Brief History of NeuroscienceAncient Egyptians believed that the heart was the vessel of an individuals intelligence. Consequently, when they mummified dead bodies, they would remove and discard the brain, but leave the heart inside.
It wasn't until 1,700 BC that the brain become the focus of attention with respect to function and intelligence. The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, Ancient Egyptian writings on the brain, describe the symptoms, diagnosis, and probable outcomes of two individuals that had received head wounds. This is the first written record contecting the brain to physical health and function.
Alcmaeon, a student of Pythagorus who lived around 500 B.C., wrote that the human brain is where the mind is, whereby extending man's understanding of the brain to include thought processes. Several years later, Hippocrates perpetuated Alcmaeon's claim by asserting the "brain is the seat of intelligence".
Several hundred years later (384-322 BC), the Greek philopher and polymath Aristotle challenged the premise set by his predecessors when he proclaimed that the human brain is the body's mechanism for cooling blood and the heart is the seat of intelligence. He went on to suggest that humans behave more humanely and rationally than animals because our larger brains cool down our blood more efficiently.
It wasn't until the invention of the microscope in 1590 that we were able to gain a deeper understanding of the brain and its relationship to human processes.
Early Italian physician, scientist, and pathologist Gamillo Golgi (1843-1926) was one of the first modern day researcher to provide any meaningful understanding of brain physiology. Using silver chromate salt Golgi was able to show what single neurons looked like. Building on Golgi's work, Spanish pathologist and neuroscientist, Santiago Cajal (1852-1934) hypothesized that the neuron is the smallest functional unit of the brain. For their revolutionary work and discoveries, Golgi and Cajal were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906.
Other 19th century scientists including Hohannes Peter M'ller, a German physiologist, anatomist and herpetologist, Hermann von Hemholtz, a German physicist and physician, and Emil du Bois-Reymond, a German physician and physiologist, greatly increased the understanding of brain function when they demonstrated the electrical excitablity of brain neurons. Specifically, they showed that the electrical state of adjacent neurons are influenced by electrically excited neurons.
While M'ller, Hemholtz and Bois-Reymond were making their discoveries, French physician and anatomist Pierre Paul Broca, while working with individual with brain damage, concluded that the brain had several independent regions, each responsible for different human function.
Modern NeuroscienceMost meaningful advancements and discoveries in neuroscience didn't occur until after the 1950s. Advances in neuroscience following 1950 were due to other discoveries and progress achieved in related fields, such as electrophysiology, computational neuroscience, and molecular biology. New technologies also fueled advances in our understanding of the brain, nervous system and neuroscience. Neuroscientists are now able to much more effectively study the nervous system's structure, development, functions, and disorders.
In the early 1980s, scientists including Donoghue, a professor of engineering and neuroscience at Brown University, developed technologies that allowed them to determine exactly where brain activity occurs when a body part (arm, leg, finger, etc.) moves. Their discoveries led to the invention of brain sensors.
In an experiment conducted in 2004, Donoghue and his colleagues used brain sensors to monitor brain response within a person who had sufffered a severe spinal cord injury that left him completely paralyzed. Monitoring the brain sensors they were able to see brain activity every time he thought about moving his arms or legs – even though his body couldn't produce the movement.
While neuroscientists usually study several aspects of neuroscience at the same time, neuroscience is categorized into the following branches based on research areas and subjects of study.
Careers in NeuroscienceEducation in neuroscience will prepare students for a range of career opportunities. Understanding brain function and dysfunction, a fort' of neuroscience, is critical in many fields including, medicine, law, psychology, education, engineering and even publicy policy. And since neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field of study, students learn to apply knowledge and concepts from many different disciplines to solve complex problems. Receiving advanced training in a highly relevant field will provide neuroscience students with a variety of career options.
Traditional neuroscience careers include the following: