Generous Gift Helps Faculty, Students Advance Research Efforts

Students conducting leading-edge psychology and neuroscience research are now better able to see the results of their work, literally.

Shanbrom Research Fund

Jeff Cross, professor of psychology and neuroscience (seated at the microscope on the left), demonstrates the new equipment to students. Professor Cross and the students are looking at Fluoro-ruby (FR)-filled neurons. Fluorescent dye FR is injected into the brain of anesthetized rats. The fluorescent pathway tracers are used to compare autistic versus control rat brain connectivity. Photo credit: Bill Owen ’74.

Thanks to a generous gift through the Shanbrom Research Fund – established by the late Dr. Edward Shanbrom ’47 and his wife, Helen, to support student/faculty research – faculty and students now have access to a brand-new microscope camera, monitor, and computer software. The high-tech equipment allows psychology and neuroscience faculty and students to see much clearer images on a large screen in real time.

“Prior to having this equipment, during a lab session, each student would need to take turns looking through the microscope, then there would be a 30-second delay when we changed the image,” explained Jeff Cross, professor of psychology and neuroscience. “Now, we are able to show the images on the large monitor so all students can see it at the same time, without a delay. We also have access to many more tools and techniques with this equipment that will help us to effectively teach and conduct advanced research.”

One area with which the new equipment will assist is with autism research. Professor Cross said that for almost 10 years, he, his colleagues, and their students have been studying the connections of the brain in rats and how they relate to human elements in autism. “Throughout the years, about 30 to 40 senior projects have centered on the autism research we are doing,” Professor Cross said. “This new technology will allow us to dig deeper into this research.”

“The collaboration between faculty and students at Allegheny allows students to gain a wealth of real-world experience,” added Jeff Hollerman, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. “Giving students this opportunity helps them prepare for the next level in their careers, whether that is working in a research lab or going on to graduate or medical school.”

Throughout the years, the Shanbrom Research Fund has supported a range of collaborative research, equipment purchases, and research publication assistance. In fact, in 2012, in addition to the gift for the new microscope camera, monitor, and software, the fund supported more students than any other single fund; a total of 16 Shanbrom Fellows received stipends and supplies to conduct research with a faculty member.

Specifically, one student majoring in neuroscience will be sequencing the DNA of domestic dogs in Alaska and Hawaii and then comparing her sequence results to previously published data on dogs from the continental United States. This research will help forensic scientists in their work as they investigate a crime scene for clues. Another student is working with a faculty member in the Biology Department to explore the importance of interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein (IRBP) and photoreceptors in the retina that will help to decrease the incidence of eye disease.

“We are excited about what this new technology can do for our program and in the field of research,” Professor Cross said. “We are very appreciative to the Shanbrom Fund for the continuous support.”