Research

Our understanding of neuroscience is founded in discoveries made through basic and clinical research, and the neuroscience program recognizes the importance of research in science education and career preparation. As such, Luther neuroscience faculty maintain active research programs that integrate students into the research process. Students may gain credit for this experience and can also receive work study hours for their participation, depending on the availability of funding. Luther College also offers competitive fellowships to conduct research with faculty during the summer.

The research interests of Dr. Kristy Gould, Professor of Psychology, are twofold.  One area of study is animal cognition, which centers on the cognitive abilities of birds in the Corvid family (jays and nutcrackers).  This includes things like their understanding of how tools work, understanding human-given cues like pointing and gazing, mirror self-awareness, and the role of individual temperament on cognition.  She also does research on persistence and seeking human help in pet and shelter dogs, as well as investigating whether the squirrels on Luther’s campus are aware of different human attentional states. Second, Dr. Gould examines areas of the brain associated with memory and cognition in birds of the Corvid family.  In particular, she is interested in comparative differences in the hippocampus and other corresponding brain areas by looking at volume, cell number and neurotransmitter distribution.

In Dr. Stephanie Fretham’s lab, Assistant Professor of Biology, students use a small nematode worm (Caenorhabditis elegans) to explore common features of neurologic disease. Many distinct conditions share common features such as accumulation of metals like iron and altered insulin signaling. By exploring how iron and insulin influence neuronal health Dr. Fretham hopes to contribute to our understanding of many conditions. While the tiny worms she uses don’t have brains, they do have a well-characterized nervous system with most of the same neurotransmitters and receptors as humans and are used as models for many conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS. Students learn to apply genetic, biochemical, microscopy, and behavioral approaches to assess neuronal health.

The research of Dr. Scott Carlson, Professor of Biology, centers on how the nervous system contributes to hypertension (high blood pressure). Despite the widespread prevalence of high blood pressure, which occurs in one out of three adults, and its contribution to cardiovascular disease, little is known about the mechanisms by which blood pressure rises and is sustained in these individuals. Dr. Carlson’s laboratory uses a rat model of hypertension to investigate neural factors, and is currently looking at how the nervous system interacts with regional blood flow to alter the control of blood pressure. Students learn how to chronically monitor arterial pressure through radiotelemetry, along with acquiring rodent surgical skills for implantation or minipumps and telemetry probes, and transecting regional nerves that control blood flow to that area.