Neuroscience at Itasca

All entering students in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience begin their studies of Neuroscience in mid-July at the University of Minnesota Biological Field Station at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota. In this beautiful northwoods setting, incoming students receive a sophisticated, intensive introduction to molecular, cellular, and systems neuroscience. Students work in groups of two, performing hands-on experiments with state-of-the-art equipment covering a wide range of Neuroscience disciplines. These include single cell, synaptic, and network physiology, neuropharmacology, and molecular neurobiology. Students also receive immediate experience in public speaking with daily presentations of experimental results to their peers.

There are multiple goals in starting all our graduate students with this intensive hands-on experimental laboratory experience. First, it gives our diverse student body similar laboratory skills before they begin their laboratory rotations in the Fall. Second, the course is designed to rotate in new faculty members each week, therefore providing students a diverse array of faculty interests and expertise to interact with on both a scientific and personal level. Third, as students live and work together throughout the course, it provides them a unique opportunity to meet and interact in an intimate manner with each other. At Itasca, strong bonds are formed between students and faculty both in and out of the lab. Indeed, sometimes the best discussions occur over the breakfast table or during canoe excursions on the lake.

Nowhere else in the country can you walk along the shores of a pristine lake, take in a startling view of a pileated woodpecker and smell the fragrance of the Minnesota ladyslipper, and then sit down at an experimental station in which you evaluate the generation of memory traces in a hippocampal slice, explore the synaptic organization of the leech ganglion, or monitor single channel currents in cultured neurons.

In the evenings, the 6:00 dinner bell at the field station signals the end of the day's experiments, although many students choose to return to the laboratory afterwards to continue their scientific explorations. The days often end with exploration of the breathtaking park or relaxation and conversation at gatherings around the bonfire.