The Northwestern Neuroscience Camp (NNC) is an outreach offered as part of the interdisciplinary Neuroscience and Persons (NAPs) Program at Northwestern College. NNC is a one-week (Monday-Friday) residential summer camp for outstanding high school students who would like to explore the exciting field of neuroscience.

The 2014 NNC is being offered from Monday, July 14, through Friday, July 18. Camp participants will arrive on Sunday (July 13) and leave Friday night or Saturday, July 19. Academically strong students who have completed their junior (11th grade) or senior (12th grade) years are given preference, though well-prepared students who have completed their sophomore (10th grade) year and have strong backgrounds in science (biology, chemistry, physics, math) may also be considered.

The camp has been offered six years on the campus of Northwestern College (a Christian liberal arts college in Orange City, Iowa; we have no connection to Northwestern University in the Chicago area). The NNC attracts participants from all over the country. Applicants must submit GPA information, a brief statement describing why they are interested in neuroscience and NNC, and a brief recommendation from their high school biology teacher or guidance counselor. The camp is limited to 10-15 participants to maximize mentoring and the quality of the experience.

In addition to learning about neuroscience, students attending NNC gain a taste of what college life is like and also valuable information about neuroscience-related careers. An NNC experience is especially useful to students as they think about whether they want to pursue an undergraduate neuroscience program and/or some related area of study or career choice; e.g., basic research in neuroscience, clinical neuroscience areas such as neurology, neuropathology, neurosurgery, psychiatry or areas in psychology such as neuropsychology and mental health. Neuroscience is one of the fastest growing and most popular disciplines among the sciences. It is not surprising that there is tremendous interest among high school students in neuroscience, and this camp is designed to nurture that interest by providing an introduction to the field. (NNC is an introduction to neuroscience, so it would not be suitable for students who have already had in-depth courses in neuroscience or significant neuroscience research experiences. It is also not intended as a general science camp, but is rather designed for students who have strong interest in neuroscience.)

At this point, the Northwestern Neuroscience Camp is a relatively unique academic camp. NNC is financially self-sustaining, being funded entirely out of the $650/person camp fee (+$100 returnable deposit). The camp does not receive any other sources of funding and unfortunately no scholarships are available at this time. Also, no college or other academic credit is offered for participation. Campers arrive on Sunday (July 13). Camp begins Monday morning (July 14) and goes through Friday afternoon (July 18). Campers leave either Friday evening or most typically on Saturday (July 19).

Participants live in chaperoned campus apartments at Northwestern College, and all meals and snacks are provided. Activities include lectures, demonstrations, a variety of hands-on learning activities, experiments and field trips. 

Sessions include introductions to:

  • Neuroscience and its history
  • Careers in neuroscience-related fields
  • Established and emerging neuroscience-related areas (e.g., basic, translational and clinical neuroscience research; neuroscience-related mental health and medical careers; neurophilosophy, neuroethics, neuroaesthetics, neuroeducation, neuropolicy/neurolaw, neuroinformatics, neuroengineering, neurotechnology, neuroeconomics and neuromarketing)
  • Microscopic study of nerve cells and nervous tissues (histology of the nervous system)
  • Anatomy of the human and sheep brain (neuroanatomy)
  • Electrical recordings and the functional activity of the nervous system (neurophysiology)
  • Development of the nervous system (neurodevelopment)
  • Effects of chemicals on the nervous system (neurochemistry/neuropharmacology)
  • Select diseases of the nervous system (neuropathology)
  • Aspects of higher brain functions (e.g., brain imaging and other brain recording techniques, cognition, sleep and emotion)

Experimental sessions include:

  • Physiology experiments using student electrophysiology set-ups to study several simple invertebrate nervous systems (e.g., the nematode Ascaris suum, a gastrointestinal pig roundworm parasite; the common earthworm; cockroach ventral nerve cord; crayfish eye); these include simple experiments involving extracellular recordings (with suction electrodes) and intracellular recordings (with microelectrodes) to learn how electrically excitable cells such as neurons and muscle cells work
  • Neuropharmacology experiments that involve injecting a variety of neurotransmitters or neurotransmitter-related chemicals into Ascaris to observe behavioral changes and application of neurotransmitters to specific tissues to assess electrophysiological effects
  • Computer simulation of signaling activity in the nervous system (e.g., simulation electrophysiology experiments in the leech nervous system, neural circuits, etc.)
  • Sheep brain dissections
  • Computer-simulated human brain dissection
  • Introduction to the study of the human cadaver in our human anatomy cadaver lab
  • Examination of brain and spinal cord and other nervous system structural models
  • Simple bipolar electroencephalography (EEG) experiments involving brain wave recordings
  • Electrodermal/Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) experiments involving the recording of skin conductance, skin temperature and pulse rate; students monitor responses of their autonomic nervous systems as is done in polygraph/lie detector tests
  • Higher brain/cognitive function exercises using the PsyCog program– Explorations in Perception and Cognition

The week also involves special field trips

  • Visits to approximately 6 active neuroscience research labs at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine that enable participants to see first-hand the great variety of neuroscience research taking place, from molecules and genes through cells, neural circuits and animal behavior
  • A visit to the Imaging Facility (CT and MRI scanners) at the local Orange City Area Health System Hospital

A bonfire outing the first night helps everyone get acquainted. “Neuroscience at the Movies” as well as a variety of recreational activities are available each evening throughout the week.

The excitement of the interdisciplinary field of neuroscience is conveyed and the spectrum of careers available in neuroscience-related fields is discussed. Students leave camp with a real sense of the adventure of modern neuroscience and an understanding of why there is such great interest in what many are calling the “Century of Neuroscience – the Century of the Brain.”