Leah Olson

on leave fall semester

BA, Evergreen State College. PhD, State University of New York-Albany. Special interest in the neurobiology of circadian rhythms and the neurobiology of learning and memory; research and papers on circadian rhythms. SLC, 1987–

Course Information

Current undergraduate courses

The Biology of Living and Dying


“He not busy being born is busy dying.” —Bob Dylan

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered that a gene used by the tiny worm C. elegans to regulate how much it eats, how fat it becomes, and how long it lives is strikingly similar to the gene for the human insulin receptor. Poets and scientists agree. Eating and getting old, sex and death…these processes seemed inexorably linked. A single gene that governs what you eat and how long you live: What’s the link? Why is obesity now described as an epidemic in the United States? Can we live longer by eating less? Why is it so hard for people to permanently lose weight? Why should there be a gene that causes aging? If aging is a deliberate, genetically programmed phenomenon and not just the body wearing out, might modern biology be able to find a cure? Is it even ethical to try to pursue a fountain of youth? This course will explore these and other questions about the biological regulation of eating and body weight and the process of aging and death.

Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

First-Year Studies: Brain and Behavior

Is there a biological basis for consciousness? Do animals have minds? How do biologists study emotions? Does genetics determine behavior? This course will examine a wide variety of questions about the brain and behavior in both humans and nonhumans by reading topical books and articles by researchers and scientists exploring both the biology and the philosophy of the mind. We will learn the basic biology of neuroscience, but much classroom time will be devoted to discussions of readings by major thinkers both contemporary and historical—including Descartes, Darwin, Steven Pinker, and Antonio Damasio—who have tried to understand the biological relationship among brain, mind, and behavior.


General Biology Series: Brain and Behavior


In this second semester of General Biology, students will explore the foundations of neuroscience from intracellular communication to higher brain functions and behavior. After learning about how neurons function, including an in-depth review of the major neurotransmitters used for intercellular communication, we will sample a variety of functions of the brain, including sleep, feeding, sex and other motivated behaviors, learning, and memory. Brain anatomy will also be a focus of our work, including the regulation of the brain and the body through regulation of the endocrine system, autonomic nervous system, and even the immune system. We will also explore the evolution of behavior and, using a few key examples, look at how the brains of different animals carry out their specialized functions. Topics may include learning in the honey bee, sound localization in the owl, and echolocation in bats. Weekly labs explore brain anatomy and cellular organization of the brain, including basic histology to prepare brain tissue for examination in the microscope. We will also make use of new recording equipment to test EEG and function of the peripheral nervous system that is activated as the body prepares for action.