MBL Spring Quarter Neuroscience

Applications are Now Open!

The University of Chicago is pleased to offer our first Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Spring Quarter in Neuroscience in Spring 2023.  This program will run concurrently with the MBL Spring Quarter in Biology.


The MBL Spring Quarter will include three consecutive three-week immersive courses taught in-person at MBL.  The optional Arts course runs concurrently with the first two modules.

           Module 1

             Module 2

      Module 3


NSCI 21510

Fundamentals of Synapses 

NSCI 21520

Cell & Molecular Biology of the Brain

NSCI 21530

Dynamic Camouflage

or or  

PHYS 12400

Physics III

BIOS 27724

Imaging for Biological Research

and  and  

ARTV 10100 

On Images*

ARTV 10100

On Images*


*The arts course, On Images, is optional.  

Program Information

    In the MBL Spring Quarter in Neuroscience, students take a series of 3-week immersive courses in the Biological Sciences.  Each course will take advantage of the diversity of research experiences that can only be accessed at MBL.

    The Fundamentals of Synapses course will examine the structure and function of the synapse, the means through which neurons communicate. Much of our fundamental understanding of the synapse arises from classic studies using marine and aquatic models. The MBL is the ideal place to re-examine these marine synapses using contemporary approaches. Cell and Molecular Biology of the Brain will provide in-depth analysis of the molecular and cell biology of the nervous system using advanced imaging and molecular biological approaches. Finally Dynamic Camouflage: Behavior, Visual Perception and Neural Skin Patterning in Cephalopods will take an integrative approach to the examination of the neurally controlled system of dynamic defense against visual predators.

    Each NSCI course will have a duration of 3 weeks. Together these three courses comprise a full quarter 3-course schedule.  However, students may also register for a Visual Language course that can be used to fulfill the general education requirement in the Arts, and/or they may register for an MBL version of Physics III rather than one of the NSCI courses. 

    • Physics 12200  *(if you are planning to take Physics 12400)

    Despite the lack of prerequisites, please be aware that the immersive nature of the program and the research-focused course content is only suitable for students with a strong interest in both neuroscience and independent research.

    The MBL Spring Quarter will run from March 20 to May 26, 2023.

    Please note the program continues through UChicago finals week, and students must stay for the entire time period to receive credit. 4th year students will be able to return to Chicago in time for Class Day and Convocation. 

    Program Fee: $6,000

    The program fee includes all housing, food and course supplies. Travel costs are not included. Need-based financial aid is available, and will be automatically applied to the program fee for students who are accepted into the program.

    Applications for Spring 2023 are now open.

    Apply Here!

    Deadline:  October 1, 2022

Course Descriptions

    J. Morgan,  J. Rosenthal

    In this course, students will learn about the fundamentals of synapses, from molecular analysis to structure and function. Marine and aquatic models have historically provided a unique opportunity to investigate synaptic function due to the large size of their neurons, including the synaptic connections. Today, these synapse models are used to study basic principles of neuron-to-neuron communication (synaptic transmission), as well as disease mechanisms. In addition to lectures and discussions of key literature, this course will feature hands-on laboratory-based exercises in molecular genetics, imaging and physiology of synapses, as well as independent "discovery" projects to explore new topics in synapse biology.

    P. LaRiviere,  R. Oldenburg 

    This course, consisting of lecture and extensive inquiry based lab work, will cover the same essential material as PHYS 12300 and can be substituted for PHYS 12300 in all biological sciences programmatic requirements. However, it will also exploit opportunities and resources unique to the MBL. The course will also provide students the opportunity to understand the physical principles underlying some of the instruments they will use in other portions of the course, such as fluorescence and polarized-light microscopes and the acoustic doppler current profilers and chirp-based SONAR systems that will be used on the research vessel. The course will have a significant research and exploration component.

    W. Green, R. Carrillo

    This course will be an interactive analysis of the cell biology of neurons and glia. Central questions include how do the unique morphologies of neurons and glia shape their cell biology and how do we use different techniques to examine these cells. Other topics include: structure and function of neuronal proteins, membrane excitability, the functions of differential glia types, and signaling pathways in synapse formation and development. The course will span three weeks at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Mornings will consist of lectures and critical reading/discussion of the primary literature. In the afternoon, students will perform hands-on experiments on different lab projects that put into practice the concepts and techniques discussed in class.

    L. Kerr,  C. Wolff  

    Imaging has been, and continues to be, a critical tool in biological research.  This course will introduce students to the fundamentals of imaging, but will quickly advance to discussing cutting edge advancements in the field.  More importantly, the course will focus on hands-on opportunities to use state-of-the art microscopes, as well as provide an opportunity for students to design and execute an original research project which makes use of the skills gained during the course.  Students will begin by building their own, simple microscopes, and then move on to learning how to use confocal and electron microscopes, as well as mastering techniques for fixed and live sample preparation.  In addition, students will analyze the data they collect using several software tools.  Lectures will be designed to introduce each topic, as well as highlight limitations and challenges in the field.

    R. Hanlon

    This course takes an integrative approach to understanding a neurally controlled system of dynamic defense against visual predators. Camouflage is a widespread form of defense throughout the animal kingdom in every known habitat - land or sea. In the oceans, cephalopods (cuttlefish, octopus, squid) have evolved a sophisticated sensorimotor system called Rapid Adaptive Coloration, which can instantaneously change their total body appearance within a fraction of a second to range from highly camouflaged to startlingly conspicuous for a wide range of behaviors. The forms and functions of this dynamic system will be teased apart in integrative fashion in a top-down approach from ecology to organismal biology to organs, tissues and cells. A key feature of this hands-on course involves non-invasive experimentation with live animals. The course touches on neural anatomy, sensation, visual perception (including psychophysics) and animal behavior.  There are also applied biology aspects of this system that will be presented as well.

    F. Lee 

    The curriculum for this course will use four methodologies in the understanding of images: Observation, Analysis, Production and Critique. We will work through a series of individual and group assignments to understand how images have meaning and can communicate as a kind of language. Taught on site at the Marine Biology Laboratory, we will use the surrounding environment of the lab and landscape to think through the topics of the course such as nature and culture, illusion, camouflage and adaptive color, analogy, metaphor, subjectivity and the role of the author. Students will use the formal concepts of line, value, texture, color, scale, repetition and positive/negative space to think critically about how images mediate knowledge. The goal of this intensive studio course is to investigate aspects of visual art through hands-on processes, research into historical and contemporary artistic practices, and critical discussions in order to develop our ability to read and respond to the visual world.

    • Visual Language: On Images is an optional course. Completion will fulfill the general education requirement in the arts.  If you have already fulfilled your core arts requirement and would like to take this course, you will get credit for a general elective.