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Forty-two to graduate from largest neuroscience undergrad program in country

After receiving his neuroscience degree from the largest program of its kind in the nation, Brigham Young University student Brian Bingham will have the summer to gear up for the University of Pennsylvania's neuropharmacology doctoral program.

Bingham, who will receive a bachelor's degree in neuroscience with 41 of his classmates this Commencement, credits the now five-year-old BYU program for serving as a stepping stone into graduate study at an Ivy League school.

"The research opportunities and lab assignments have given me hands-on experience where I get to see and use the techniques we talk about in class," said Bingham. "I had fun sitting down and talking with the interviewers at Penn about my research assistantship where I studied alcoholism. That seemed to impress them the most."

The major, a mixture of biological sciences, psychology and chemistry, attracted 361 current BYU students wanting to study brain functioning and its connection to behavior. Eighty percent of the program's graduates go on to medical or dental schools and another 15 percent enter graduate neuroscience programs.

"Neuroscience has become a popular undergraduate major throughout the country," said Edward Stricker, chairman of the neuroscience department at the University of Pittsburgh and past president of the Association of Neuroscience Departments and Programs. "Rather large programs in neuroscience are found at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including UCLA, Emory, Pitt, Penn, Johns Hopkins, Brown and Vanderbilt. BYU is well ahead of the curve and currently has the largest undergraduate program in neuroscience in the country."

In his time at BYU, Bingham researched in the lab of Scott Steffensen, an assistant professor of psychology, who is seeking to identify neurons associated with addiction to alcohol.

Bingham would like to direct his graduate work toward affective disorders and the pathways of antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs.

"In addition to being the largest program, we hope in the long term to receive national recognition from the neuroscience community for the quality of students that are coming out of our program," said Edwin Lephart, director of the Neuroscience Center and a professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.

Writer: Joseph Hadfield

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