"Textbook illustrations are generally inadequate," Zimmerberg said, "because they can never convey in two dimensions brain structures and processes that exist in three dimensions and change over time."
She and Wisniewski will develop a collection of three-dimensional animated and interactive multi-media resources to support introductory neuroscience courses and related fields in biology and psychology. These resources will include videos and CD-ROMs for laboratory simulations and process animation. "We plan to take advantage of several new advances in computer technology," Zimmerberg said.
One of these is moderately priced but extremely powerful 3-D animation software for use on desktop computers. These same computers can run powerful new multi-media authoring software.
"All the control of the videos plus the related text, graphics and 3-D models will be kept on neuroscience pages on the World Wide Web," Wisniewski said. "This means we can update the programming of these materials without ever making the video on the CD-ROM obsolete. "
The pilot unit on "Synaptic Transmission and Chemical Messengers" will include a real-time interactive simulated laboratory experiment.
The ultimate goal of the project is to make the materials available globally for a variety of educational levels and settings.
Before joining the Williams faculty in 1989, Zimmerberg taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and SUNY-Albany. At Williams, her courses include Introduction to Neuroscience; Drugs and Behavior; and Left Brain, Right Brain-The Great Divide. Her research has focused on brain development and how it is affected by experiences such as prenatal alcohol exposure or postnatal stress.
She is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including 11 years of continuous funding from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institute of Health.
After receiving her B.A. from Harvard University in 1971 and her Ph.D. from City University of New York in 1976, Zimmerberg did postdoctoral work in psychopharmacology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Wisniewski has produced educational television programs for 20 years, with a specialty in computer animation and science instruction. His programs have appeared on PBS, CBS, and The Learning Channel, among others. His most recent project was a program on "Bones" for the Discover Magazine series on the Discovery Channel. For PBS he produced, directed, and wrote "The Power of Place: World Regional Geography," a series of 26 half-hour programs, shot in 35 countries, about people whose lives are shaped by geographical forces. He also produced and directed "The Nobel Legacy," and designed the computer animation system for the extensive 3-D motion graphics to illustrate principles of chemistry, medicine, and physics.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Williams College $228,987 to implement the project. A national advisory committee, formed by Zimmerberg and the NSF, will help disseminate project results to the academic community and advise on future directions for the project.
Williams College is consistently ranked one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges. Founded in 1793, it is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college of 2,000 students is located in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts.