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Esther Penick

Associate Professor of Biology; Chair of Neuroscience

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

B.A., B.S., Minor

How We Work

  1. We own our work from start to finish. Not only do students work closely with their professors in a small, cohesive program, but they also take greater responsibility in their research. Seniors taking on research projects don't just handle a section of the research—they design, produce, and write-up their project from top to bottom in collaboration with a professor. And all students present their research; many go on to the Chicago Society for Neuroscience Meeting.
  2. We forge our own paths. In true liberal arts fashion, students take electives with faculty in biology, psychology, and biochemistry, offering them a multitude of concentrations and research ideas. Knox also offers a bachelor of science degree for those who want to cement their foundation in neuroscience and prepare for the professional and graduate work that they'll encounter ahead.
  3. We drag our professors into our crazy experiments. Maaya Ikeda '10 came to Professor Penick with a radical idea: that estrogen could function as a neuromodulator. Turns out, she was right—and Penick is still researching the topic with students at Knox today! Whether it be discussing papers in the neuroscience club or coming up with new research concepts with professors, our students are always pushing the boundaries of the field.
  4. We study abroad, too! There's no reason why students in the sciences can't get a true liberal arts experience. That's why our faculty promote study abroad—whether that means taking neuroscience courses in Denmark, or working on a second major in Barcelona.
  5. Our grads find success. About 50% of our students go on to some form of graduate studies: be that getting their Ph.D., M.D., D.O., or Master's degree. Anna Kramer '14 is working on a Ph.D. at University of Maryland College Park. Kathleen Beeson '09 is a graduate student at Oregon Health & Science University. Hatim Mustaly '13 is pursuing a Master's at Boston University School of Medicine.

Neuroscience research topics recently completed by Knox students include the development of drug and other therapies to help people with brain injury or disease and the exploration of cellular and molecular processes that underlie drug addiction and memory.

Our broad-based curriculum and rich research opportunities will help you gain an understanding of neuroscience with a breadth and depth that will prepare you for graduate and professional school, as well as for positions in the private and public sector. Neuroscience graduates have gone on to doctoral programs at institutions such as University of Southern California, Emory, Duke University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, University of Minnesota, University of Texas-Austin, University of California-Los Angeles, Finch University, and State University of New York-Binghamton.Neuroscience graduates are employed in diverse settings, including research at universities or pharmaceutical companies; medicine as neurologists, clinical neurologists, neurosurgeons, physical therapists, or psychiatrists; policy-making bodies in the government; and the criminal justice system.

The Program

The major and minor in neuroscience integrate behavioral as well as cellular and molecular aspects of neuroscience. The introductory courses cover fundamental principles in biology and chemistry that are needed to understand nervous system functioning. Advanced courses provide opportunities for an immersion in the field of neuroscience, including neurophysiology, neurochemistry, and affective and cognitive neuroscience. Research methods and statistics are covered in courses in either biology, for those with a cellular and molecular focus, or psychology, for students interested in a behavioral focus.As a neuroscience student, you will complete a two-term research experience in which you, under the mentorship of a faculty member, will conduct original neuroscience research. The process includes reviewing literature, generating a hypothesis, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting results in written and oral form.


Resources for neuroscience include animal colony and animal research facilities; a human neuropsychological laboratory; and facilities for histology and chemical separation. Specific resources include:

  • Water maze, radial arm maze, conditioned place preference apparatus, and operant chambers for assessing cognitive/behavioral functioning in nonhumans; ultrasonic microphone for testing vocalizations associated with emotional responding in nonhumans.
  • High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) for detecting neurotransmitters in blood and in brain tissue in nonhumans; equipment for assessment hormone levels in humans. 
  • Lab for histological preparation of neural tissue; and
  • Human psychophysiological lab with electroencephalogram (EEG) and a range of sensors for measure of autonomic nervous system function, e.g., galvanic skin response (GSR), heart rate, respiration rate, electromyogram (EMG), and facial EMG.

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Printed on Sunday, June 23, 2024