by Josh Timmons, Biology, 2017

Psychology professor Dr. Craig Ferris has partnered with Morgan State University to give students unprecedented access to neuroscience and, in doing so, address the lack of diversity in science.

Ferris’ neuroscience research has spanned brain plasticity to environmental risk factors that alter behavior. Using magnetic resonance imaging, he has taken an in-depth look at how brains develop over time with respect to both structure and function. Ferris directs Northeastern’s Center for Translational Neuro-Imaging (CTNI) facility, a unique resource providing students and faculty with the opportunity to train on a state-of- the-art ultra high field magnetic resonance scanner.

Dr. Craig Ferris
Dr. Craig Ferris

Now, in addition to his research at the underlying causes of neurological disorders, Ferris is taking on a socially systemic problem: diversity in science. Researchers report that 51 percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce is white males. Further, despite making up 11 percent of the U.S. population, only 5 percent of American scientists and engineers are black.

By joining the NIH’s Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Initiative, Ferris is taking on a new role as a science mentor for large groups of students from underrepresented minorities. The initiative itself is based upon findings that undergraduates in science majors who participate in research experiences have improved academic performance and 30 percent increased interest in obtaining a PhD.

Ferris plans to open the doors, cameras, and software of CTNI to his mentees. The center, housed in Mugar Life Sciences Building, is outfitted with video communication and remote control of the console and analysis software, allowing for the students directly operate the scanner. As the non-invasive scanner in Mugar hum, students 400 miles away will be pouring over the results.

With the unprecedented ability to do remote neuro-imaging, Ferris’ mentees will have the capability of conducting truly student-driven research. “We can ask them, what would you like to do and what would you like to study?” said Ferris. The scope of the projects may span all of neuroscience but, said Ferris, “one area that we are interested in is neurodegenerative diseases because that are increasingly important to human health.”

“Not only will they study neuroscience research and read about it as neuroscientists, but they will learn about the physics of magnetic resonance imaging and its application in brain research,” said Ferris. The partnership is poised to foster a new wave of biomedical researchers.