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UCLA Magazine Winter 2002
It's not your parents dorm anymore
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A beautiful Mind
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Winter 2002
The New Scientists

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“UCLA is a uniquely interactive place where the boundaries between departments and between schools are remarkably porous,” says Tobin, director of the Brain Research Institute and holder of the Eleanor I. Leslie Chair of Neuroscience. “That’s really the strength of this campus.”

That culture makes all the difference to bright graduate students who want both the freedom to move between disciplines and a structured program and the support of senior faculty from different fields.

“It’s highly unusual to find these dual programs,” says graduate student Jenna Rickus, who came to UCLA with a double major in engineering and biochemistry from Purdue University. Dubbed a “rock star” by her colleagues in neuroengineering, Rickus turned down an offer from MIT when she found the “perfect program” at UCLA, one that blends biology with engineering.

“For most biologists, engineering is a completely foreign world. It can really be tough going back and forth between these worlds,” she says. “You have to understand the differences between the two. There are cultural differences in how the sciences are taught, how scientists talk to each other, even how papers are written.”

But with the support of mentors from both disciplines — Tobin from neuroscience and Bruce Dunn M.S. ’72, Ph.D. ’74 from materials science in engineering — Rickus and her work to develop sensors that can monitor the activities of signaling molecules in rat brains is part of the bridge that links their labs. Once developed, Rickus’ tiny sensors could give scientists a clearer picture of the circuitry of the brain and the changes that occur due to Parkinson’s disease, for example. “These sensors may one day be used to evaluate a drug treatment — or any other treatment — by correlating changes in the neurotransmitter patterns with a patient’s behaviors,” she explains.

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