The Neural Systems & Behavior (NS&B) course at the MBL is derived from the original Zoology course, the first laboratory course established at MBL the same year it was founded in 1888. NS&B is thus the oldest course at the MBL! In 1969, the Zoology course was renamed the Invertebrate Zoology course, reflecting the increasing specialization of biological research.  During these days, the location of MBL made it an ideal ground for studying marine invertebrates collected off the cost of Woods Hole, MA. A retelling of this early period by Alan Gelperin can be found here.


In 1978, the course leapt into the new frontiers of neuroscience when it was re-envisioned as the Neural Systems & Behavior course under its first Director, Alan Gelperin, with generous support from the Grass Foundation, which provided start-up funds and a generous loaner program of equipment.  Ever since, the Grass Foundation has been a steadfast supporter of NS&B at the MBL. Because back then the facilities were still designed for marine invertebrate research, students worked around the large salt-water tanks, with pipes running all across the ceiling. Unfortunately, Alan was unable to return to Woods Hole the following year for personal reasons, so Ron Hoy stepped in and directed the course 1979/80, before bringing Eduardo Macagno on board as co-director for the period of 1981-1984. Ron Hoy instituted the principle of choice, i.e., students choose between two or three modules per cycle, an idea that has endured. One of Ron’s proudest accomplishments was to secure a training grant from the NIMH, which supports the course to this day.


The next pair of course directors, from 1985-1989 were Darcy Kelly and Tom Carew. As the t-shirts from that period will attest, the course participants were no strangers to having fun when their work was through. 1987 in particular is fondly remembered as the year of the “Aplysia races.” From 1990-1994 Ron Calabrese and Martha Constantine-Patton directed the course, further establishing its reputation as a life-changing experience for the students. With technology as it was in those days, the largest budget item was film for their cameras. From 1995-1999 Harold Zakon and Janis Weeks directed the course, adding several new modules. The tradition of innovation was extended by Richard Levine and Catherine Carr from 2000-2004. After Michael Dickenson and Sarah Bottjer, who lead NS&B 2005-2007, Paul Katz and Jim Knierim (2008-2012) added more emphasis on professional development and moved the course into the internet age by establishing a facebook page.

2013 – present

Starting in 2013, Hans Hofmann and André Fenton began transforming the course by embracing an integrative theme – between modules and across levels of organization – and broadening the range of techniques offered. They are also increasing the reach of the course by webcasting all the lectures as well as producing online learning modules on complex techniques and procedures (coming soon).

With 20 students enrolled in the course each year, the NS&B course has trained 740 students and post-docs in the past 37 years! Many students have gone on to pursue distinguished careers in academia, and many have gone on to be course faculty.

The MBL History Project

During MBL’s 125th anniversary summer of 2013, the MBL Community Archives Project scanned and processed into our community-generated archives photographs, memories, stories, letters, research documents, and course notebooks. These items were given to the Project for scanning by a broad cross section of the MBL scientific community. This MBL Community Archives is a community-generated collection of photographs, video reminiscences, and science memorabilia.

Check out the MBL History Project’s YouTube Channel for interviews with some of the famous scientists who have spent their summers at MBL. Some former NS&B directors, students, faculty, and speakers have shared their story.  Check them out.

Janis Weeks, Co-Director 1995-1999

Leslie Vosshall, Guest Lecturer 2013, PI of former NS&B students


Overview of Previous Course Directors

Year Director Home Institution
1978 Alan Gelperin Princeton University
1979-84 Ronald Hoy Cornell University
1981-84 Eduardo Macagno Columbia University, now at UCSD
1985-89 Thomas Carew Yale University, now at NYU
1985-89 Darcy Kelley Columbia University
1990-94 Ronald Calabrese Emory University
1990-94 Martha Constantine-Paton Yale University, now at MIT
1995-99 Janis Weeks University of Oregon
1995-99 Harold Zakon The University of Texas at Austin
2000-04 Catherine Carr University of Maryland
2000-04 Richard Levine University of Arizona
2005-07 Sarah Bottjer University of Southern California
2005-07 Michael Dickinson Caltech
2008-12 Paul Katz Georgia State University
2008-12 James Knierim Johns Hopkins University
2013-18 André Fenton New York University
2013-18 Hans Hofmann The University of Texas at Austin
2018-20 Jade Zee Northeastern University
2019-23 Robert Froemke  NYU School of Medicine
2019-23 Stephanie White UCLA