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By Eric Weld   Date: 12/14/11 Bookmark and Share

For Neuroscience, Go to Floor Four, Sabin-Reed

At Smith, and nationally, neuroscience has been among the fastest-growing scientific fields in the past two decades.

The study of the nervous system incorporates several scientific disciplines beyond biology, such as chemistry, psychology, physics, philosophy and mathematics, attracting increasing numbers of scholars and spotlighting the need for collaboration.

Michael Barresi, assistant professor of biological sciences, in one of his new Sabin-Reed lab spaces.

Since it was added to Smith’s majors in 1997, neuroscience has attracted a consistently growing cadre of students, now ranking among the college's most popular science programs with 56 majors. But, the latest growth in the department is a physical expansion of lab spaces and a consolidation of faculty offices.

The fourth floor of newly renovated Sabin-Reed Hall now houses what could be called a “neuroscience cluster,” lined with department faculty offices, lab spaces and lounge areas for majors.

“The best thing about this is that I have program colleagues as my neighbors now,” said Michael Barresi, assistant professor of biological sciences, about the conglomeration of neuroscience faculty. “This changes everything.”

Barresi oversees an extensive lab and research facility, all used by his research team of between 12 and 14 students.

Barresi welcomes the expanded lab space at his disposal, as he was fast outgrowing his old lab in Burton. “Getting more than three students in there plus me was difficult,” he recalled. “Now, my students have more individual space to work with. There’s more ownership of projects, of ongoing research, more of a feeling of, ‘This is my space, my project.’”

Barresi is joined on the Sabin-Reed fourth floor by fellow neuroscience faculty members Mary Harrington, the Tippit Professor in Life Sciences; Richard Olivo, professor of biological sciences; Margaret Anderson, professor of biological sciences; and Annaliese Beery, psychology.

Harrington has enjoyed the increased interactions with her students that comes with the convenience of having an office next door to her lab. “My students are more likely to pop into my office with questions now,” she said, “and I am more likely to pop into the lab to make suggestions.”

Also, Harrington noted, with a neuroscience cluster of faculty and labs, majors in the interdisciplinary field have a sense of place. “It is important for them to get to know each other,” she said, “since they are in classes with a wide range of other science majors. Also, we are able to get to know students working in the labs of our colleagues.”

In addition, added Harrington, the lab and office proximity allows she and her colleagues to co-supervise research projects and share resources.

“There’s an increased frequency of interaction now,” said Barresi. “It fosters better efficiency. This is everything I want.”

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