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Meet Joseph LoTurco, Head of Physiology and Neurobiology

Department of Physiology and Neurobiology
Ph.D.: Stanford University
Office Location: George Safford Torrey Life Sciences Building

What would you say are the Department of Physiology and Neurobiology’s areas of strength?
The research strengths in our department are broadly based and include specific strengths in cellular neurophysiology, glial cell biology, liver biology and disease, physiology of respiration, and biology of reproduction.

What interests students in studying physiology and neurobiology?
I believe undergraduates are drawn to our courses and major because of their interest in gaining an in-depth, mechanistic understanding of the structure and the function of the human body in health and in disease states.

What are the most popular or most loved classes taught in your department?
Our Anatomy and Physiology course series, Mammalian Endocrinology, Biology of the Brain, and Animal Physiology are our most popular courses. Two of our most loved classes are our two advanced laboratory classes, Investigations in Neurobiology and Molecular Principles of Physiology. The two upper division laboratory courses are a particular favorite for our majors because students have the opportunity to design and complete independent research projects as team.

What types of jobs do undergraduate and graduate students pursue after attaining a physiology and neurobiology degree?
Typically, our graduates go on to careers in or related to the health professions or biomedical research. Many of our students go on to graduate or professional schools in biomedical science or medicine.

Have there been recent changes to the Department of Physiology and Neurobiology that have strengthened your department?
Within the last three years the liver biology and disease research group, headed by Professor Li Wang, and a reproductive biology lab, headed by Assistant Professor Jianjun Sun, have brought new research strengths into the department. Two other recently hired faculty, Assistant Professors Alex Jackson and Karen Menuz, have established two labs that have significantly strengthened our reputation in cellular neurophysiology. In terms of new academic programs, we have just completed a second summer of a successful new Graduate Certificate Program, Intraoperative Neuromonitoring (IONM), which was developed and led by Assistant Professor in Residence Rada Filipovic and Adjunct Professor Payam Andalibe.

What do you see as upcoming challenges or opportunities for your department?
Our greatest challenge is that all of our teaching labs and approximately half of our research labs are housed in the old Torrey Life Sciences building. Our ability to meet the growing needs of an expanding student enrollment in our teaching labs, and for modern research space for our research labs, is dependent on the current UConn construction and renovation projects across campus providing us the space we need.

Where do you see the field of physiology and neurobiology going in the next 10 years?

As in much of science, we will be dealing with ever larger multidimensional datasets, or so-called “big data.” Our field will be challenged with making sense of this data in useful and meaningful ways, and as experimentalists, designing clever experiments that rigorously test the hypotheses that can come from rich datasets. Through this type of work, I believe our field will play a critical part in making foundational discoveries needed to advance the new individualized medicine of the future.

What first interested you in physiology and neurobiology?
When I was a sophomore in college, I joined a research lab. In that first week in the lab I made my first electrophysiological recording from neurons in a brain, and then processed histological samples to see where those same neurons were located. In that week I found my life’s passion and haven’t looked back since.


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