Amy Whitmarsh ’23 is already making her mark in neuroscience, including on several projects at Chapman University’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Brain and Behavioral Sciences (Brain Institute).
She was awarded a 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and an Undergraduate Scholarly Creative Grant, and she presented her work at two national neuroscience gatherings.
“At Chapman, you can get into a research lab and work directly with graduate students and professors,” Whitmarsh says.
Associate Professor Caroline Wilson, director of the neuroscience minor in Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, says Whitmarsh “has demonstrated her ability to aptly contribute intellectually to the scientific investigation.”
Whitmarsh has worked with Assistant Professor Aaron Schurger on several Brain Institute research projects, including how consciousness plays into free-will decisions.
In that project, “we’re basically looking at the brain using electroencephalography, which is where we put all the electrodes on your head,” Whitmarsh says. “We’re trying to see whether we can determine which button the participant will press in a spontaneous condition.”
The hypothesis, she says, was that researchers can’t predict which button a person will press.
“Which I think is good for free will because it shows that we do have free will – it’s not like the brain is coming up with these answers before our conscious self knows about them,” she says.
She presented a poster on the project at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in San Diego in November 2022.
Additionally, she worked on projects studying facial perception in autistic children through the Brain Institute
As a post-baccalaureate research assistant, Whitmarsh plans to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience or psychology. She wants to work in neuropsychology, looking at how disorders like autism influence behaviors.
“You have people studying the neuroscience side – the mechanisms of what’s happening in the brain,” she says. “And then you also have people studying the psychology. I want to do both.”
She was in the neuroscience minor’s second cohort.
“I knew that I wanted to go into health science in general, which is my major, but I didn’t know about neuroscience and how much I would like it,” she says.