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Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dale R. Sengelaub

Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Adjunct Professor of Biology
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Department of Biology
College of Arts and Sciences
Appointed to IU faculty, 1986
B.A., State University of New York Stony Brook, 1978
Ph.D., Cornell University, 1983

"When Dale teaches laboratory classes, he doesn't use canned experiments or demonstrations. He runs the class in his lab on real research issues. This isn't the easiest approach to laboratory teaching, but it is very effective." --George Rebec, Chancellor's Professor in Psychology and Director of the Program in Neuroscience

When neuroscientist Dale R. Sengelaub's students head to the lab for class, they don't just go to any generic laboratory in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences -- they search out "Sengelabs," where they have access to cutting-edge equipment, and more important, an inspirational professor who considers active and productive research and good teaching "a stimulating mix."

Dale Sengelaub

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Dale Sengelaub

Print-Quality Photo

Sengelabs is where Professor Sengelaub's federally funded research interests continue to unfold -- with the help of both undergraduate and graduate students -- since he joined the IU Bloomington faculty 23 years ago. It also is where students in his courses can conduct experiments, some of which they have designed. It's where students' research interests can blossom into conference presentations, doctoral dissertations, and research articles for peer-reviewed journals -- all critical developments for budding scientists and future medical students.

"When Dale teaches laboratory classes, he doesn't use canned experiments or demonstrations. He runs the class in his lab on real research issues. This isn't the easiest approach to laboratory teaching, but it is very effective," writes Chancellor's Professor George Rebec, director of the Program in Neuroscience.

Sengelaub has received the IU Trustees' Teaching Award six times since 1997. In 2004 Sengelaub received the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior Exemplar Award in recognition of a career that has set outstanding examples of the integration of different perspectives in the study of animal behavior. He also has received the 2000 Outstanding Mentor award from Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience.

Sengelaub's colleagues describe his research program as highly productive and one in which he actively engages undergraduate students as well as graduate students. This close mentoring relationship, says Linda Smith, chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, has resulted in an "extraordinary record of undergraduate publications," with students continuing on to excellent doctoral programs and medical schools. "Truly, there is no one I know of with an undergraduate publication record to match this," Smith says.

Over the years, Sengelaub's work in Bloomington has involved many different lines of research, including sexual differences in the brain and spinal cords of rats, sexual differences in the brains of birds and how they affect their singing, and now, neurotherapeutic hormone therapies for motor neurons. His studies have demonstrated, for example, that testosterone has therapeutic effects in the spinal cord, protecting surviving motor neurons from atrophy after the death of neighboring motor neurons, and regulating the expression of receptors for trophic factors, proteins critical for the maintenance of normal structure and function. His work could have important implications in the treatment of degenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease -- which can destroy spinal cord motor neurons, resulting in paralysis.

His sponsored work enables him to combine his passions for research and teaching. As associate director of the Common Themes in Reproductive Diversity Grant at IU Bloomington, he is actively involved in the training grant's operation, including curriculum development, as well as teaching core courses, interdisciplinary seminars, and an ethics training seminar.

He also is co-principal investigator of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) Program, funded by the National Institutes of Health's General Medical Sciences' Division of Minority Opportunities in Research.

He has created a variety of classes, from Introduction to Neuroscience, aimed at non-science majors, to Sex on the Brain—a mixture of lectures, student presentations, lengthy discussions, lab exercises, and field trips.

A class titled "The Cellular Basis of . . ." exposes graduate students to the biological substrates of behavior in detail. Atypically, the syllabus is set by the students at the beginning of the semester and reflects topics they want to pursue. The students also determine the experimental approaches that they want to learn to investigate the topic. Rebec cites this innovative course as an example of Sengelaub's dedication to combining teaching and research. "Nobody teaches a class like this," Rebec said. "Only Dale has the guts, the commitment, and the dedication to do it, and do it he does on a regular basis."

Smith says Sengelaub deserves much of the credit for the success of the new undergraduate neuroscience major. She says his "absolute special contribution" has been in undergraduate mentoring, citing the remarkable number of undergraduate publications, which indicates the students' active engagement in his research, and the Honors Seminar, which Sengelaub runs. The seminar teaches students about writing a thesis, giving talks, analyzing others' work. Sengelaub reads and edits all of the honors theses in the department and is actively involved with all of the defense committees. He also is an advisor to these students. "He simply is a genius in shepherding these students through," Smith says.