This Guide is being developed to accompany the exhibit in the lobby of the Northwest Building at 52 Oxford Street, Harvard University, Cambridge MA. The exhibit takes an interdisciplinary look at neuroscience.
In this guide and in the exhibit itself, we are looking primarily at the physical brain, not only in humans but in other organisms that may not even have brains as such. It's beyond our scope to go into areas such as cognition and intelligence, fascinating though those areas are. Our hope is to spark your interest to explore other areas on your own.
Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. The term "neurobiology" refers specifically to the study of biological aspects of the nervous system but is also often used interchangeably with "neuroscience."
Neuroscience is a relatively new field, at least as a separate discipline. It merges neuroanatomy, which focuses on structure; neurophysiology, focusing on function; and neurochemistry, looking at chemical substances in the brain. Before the 1960s these fields were in different departments of medical schools, although nervous systems were also studied in biology departments. Today, the term "neuroscience" covers all of these and itself is ofen broken down into specific fields such as cognitive neuroscience, molecular neuroscience, etc.
Although the brain is usually defined as the organ found in the skulls of vertebrates that contains nerve cells and fibers, many other organisms have nervous systems that govern bodily functions, movements, senses and more, thus functioning similarly to vertebrate brains. This Guide looks at nervous systems in general, so will be using "brains" quite loosely.
Ernst Mayr Library, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge MA 02138