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CBD: An Incredible Range of Interests

By Michael Samuels 09F

“Morphographic disassociation!” someone calls from the back of the room. “We could make it up right now!”

Raphael Serota, a fourth-year student, is describing research done this past summer with cognitive science professor Joanna Morris. During his presentation, “Research in Morphological Decomposition,” many audience members noticed something strange. Serota gave examples of real and fake words with a shared morpheme (the smallest part of a word that still has meaning), “corn,” “cornable,” “corner,” and “corny,” but their first thought is that a “corner” is someone who “corns,” so “corner” is not a real word. The discovery causes a brief but enthusiastic conversation about why this would happen, how it could be tested, and what it would be called.

Then it’s on to Dan Taub’s presentation of work with physiology professor Cynthia Gill, looking at chemicals involved in amphibians’ maternal instincts and how this information could be useful to conservation efforts.

Culture, Brain, and Development >>

Serota and Taub are two of 11 students who spoke at the Culture, Brain, and Development (CBD) program’s 2010 summer project presentations this fall, sharing what they learned in internships and research projects thanks to CBD funding.

CBD was founded in 2003 by a group of Hampshire professors, led by anthropologist Barbara Yngvesson, with a $1 million gift (the first of two) from the Foundation for Psychocultural Research (FPR).

FPR was itself founded in 1999 with a gift from Hampshire College graduate Dr. Robert Lemelson 79F, a research anthropologist at the Semel Institute of Neurosciences at UCLA and an assistant adjunct professor in the department of anthropology. FPR supports programs and scholarly efforts that provide models of integrative cultural and neuroscientific research, such as Hampshire’s CBD program. CBD uses the funding to support new course development and student projects and internships.

This past summer CBD supported an incredible variety of student projects and internships: Syd Fogarty, working with cognition and education professor Laura Wenk, surveyed the strengths and weaknesses of current strategies used to teach English as a second language in Amherst’s elementary schools and how the system could be improved.

Raphael Franca went to Mapia, in Brazil near the Bolivian and Peruvian borders, to study that community’s religious use of the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca from both an anthropological and a neurochemical viewpoint.

Maya Marcus-Sells worked in a lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on a method to track development of memories.

Sean McGill met Wesleyan University professor Laura Grabel at a CBD event last year (where “she gave a spur of the moment stem-cell lecture,” McGill says) and worked with her this summer.

Katherine Mott interned at Vrije University in Amsterdam in the lab of clinical neurophysiology professor C.J. Stam.

CBD Faculty and Meetings

This variety doesn’t stop with the students—after all, CBD is an interdisciplinary program. Faculty members include philosophy professor Laura Sizer, developmental cognitive neuroscience professor Jane Couperus, physiologist Gill, and music professor Rebecca Miller.

Each Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Adele Simmons Hall lobby, students meet, discuss an article or topic, hear a lecture, have a conversation, and eat pizza or Chinese food. These discussions, thanks to each student’s unique combination of interests, range from topics such as “This is Your Brain on Facebook” to “Science and Religion: Gorillas and God.”

Conversations go from neuroscience to sociology, to dance, to physics, and back. Students from across the academic program at Hampshire attend these meetings, often coming away with surprising new ideas for work in their areas of interest (I wrote a one-act play after one of these discussions).

Always New Questions

At the CBD student project presentations on September 27, Celine O’Malley ended her description of an internship with Global Youth Connect in Rwanda, using art to heal trauma, with a statement that sums up the CBD program: “I came out of it with more questions than answers.”

For everything learned in a CBD-funded internship, project, discussion with faculty, or Wednesday night meeting, there is always something new to go and find out, experiment with, or find a name for. And the range of those questions is always surprising.

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