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Hendrix to Host Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar November 15

CONWAY, Ark. (October 17, 2018) – Dr. Susan Birren, a professor of biology and neuroscience at Brandeis University, will visit Hendrix College on Thursday, November 15 to deliver the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Lecture, “Building a Brain: Cells, Circuits and Developmental Disorders.” The lecture will take place at 5 p.m. in Lecture Hall B of the Mills Center for Social Sciences, and is free and open to the public.

The developing brain relies on a coordinated series of chemical and electrical signals as well as cell contacts to establish the neural circuits that control brain function. This lecture explores the development and function of one system of nerve cells within the brain, the cholinergic system, which connects to the major brain areas responsible for thought, emotion, and response to sensory information. In adults, the cholinergic system affects learning and memory, awareness, and sensory responses. It is also the first brain area to be affected in Alzheimer’s disease and is disrupted in developmental disorders such as autism.

In Birren’s Developmental Neurobiology laboratory, undergraduates, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers work together to gain a new understanding of how cellular interactions control the development of nerve cells and functional neural circuits. Her work has defined the reciprocal signaling between the nervous system and the heart that leads to neural control of cardiac function and to cardiovascular disease.

After receiving her Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles, Birren did post-doctoral work at the California Institute of Technology in the area of Development Neurobiology. She has been a member of the Brandeis faculty since 1994 and is a member of the Brandeis National Center for Behavioral Genomics and the Volen Center for Complex Systems. She also served seven years as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Brandeis University’s largest academic division.

Since 1956, the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Visiting Scholar Program has offered undergraduates the opportunity to spend time with some of America’s most distinguished scholars. The program contributes to the intellectual life of the institution by making possible an exchange of ideas between the Visiting Scholar and the resident faculty and students. The 15 men and women participating during the academic year of 2018-2019 will visit more than 90 colleges and universities with chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, spending two days on each campus taking part in the academic life of the institution. In addition to presenting a lecture open to the entire academic community and the general public, they meet informally with students and faculty members and participate in classroom discussions and seminars.

About the Phi Beta Kappa Society

Founded in 1776, the Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society. It has chapters at 286 colleges and universities and more than half a million members throughout the country. Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, foster freedom of thought, and recognize academic excellence.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit