From VHS To Neuroscience

By on July 12, 2011

Camille Borland, right, with Luis Schettino, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Lafayette.

By her own admission, Camille Borland did not seem destined for a career in science while she was at Verona High School. But, oh how that has changed in college.

“People would be surprised,” she concedes. “At VHS, I loved English. It was my favorite subject. I took the challenging science courses, but I never saw myself as a scientist. I came to Lafayette undecided about a major and was undecided all freshman year. Then, some peers told me about neuroscience.”

Borland, who graduated VHS in 2009, is now on a pre-med track majoring in neuroscience at Lafayette College, which is in Easton, Penn. This summer, as part of an independent study project, she is doing research that may some day help Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients to recover a semblance of their lives before debilitation. She is working on an interdisciplinary project headed by Luis Schettino, assistant professor of psychology, and Yih-Choung Yu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, to understand how humans prepare and execute physical actions.

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That’s not something that most of us think about in our daily lives. We just pick up a glass of our favorite beverage and toss it back. But simple tasks like this are not so simple for people with neurodegenerative diseases, people whose brains seem to have forgotten how to talk to their muscles. Borland’s professors want to know very specifically how fingers organize themselves before they make contact with an object. How they determine how wide a grip should be, how they process what needs to be done even if the light in a room is too dim to clearly see the object that is going to be picked up.

So every day, she dons a glove designed by another Lafayette student and grabs things. The glove, which has copper fingertips, is connected to a circuit box, allowing researchers to track the exact time Borland–or anybody else wearing it–touches the object, as well as what the person’s wrist and arm were doing at the time. The bulky glove has changed the way Borland thinks about college, and her future.

“Little did I know, that this would open so many doors for me,” Borland says. “I am continuing this research in the fall and will be going with my professor and another peer to The Society of Neuroscience conference in (Washington) D.C. this coming November to present our findings.”

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Borland wasn’t, to be sure, a slouch at VHS, and she is grateful that she learned to manage time there as well as she did. “It is very hard to balance research, school work and a social life in college.” But she wishes she had challenged herself more in her home school. “Keep your options open,” she advises those still at VHS. “Don’t be closed-minded, and don’t give up. If you think you are interested in something, stick with it.”

And she urges Veronans now in college to create opportunities for themselves. “There is going to be a resume at the end of those four years, and you don’t want it to be bare.”

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