The Biological Basis of Behavior Program was established at Penn in 1978 in response to student demand. As the field of neuroscience was becoming increasingly interdisciplinary in the 1970’s, students began to pursue “individualized majors” which combined the study of biology with coursework in the behavioral sciences. Penn took notice of the interest and asked Professor Norman Adler of the Psychology Department to design a cohesive program that would address the growing appreciation of the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience. In 1978, BBB was born.
The BBB Program is not a traditional department, but incorporates faculty from the Departments of Biology, Psychology and the Institute for Neurological Sciences who teach BBB courses. The Program is overseen by a Director, who is a faculty member actively involved in neuroscience research. Dr. Adler was the first BBB Director (1978 – 1989). He was then followed by Dr. Edward Pugh from 1989 to 1993. Dr. Pugh, a world famous retinal physiologist, was a Professor of Psychology with secondary appointments in ophthalmology in the School of Medicine. He is now a professor at U.C. Davis.
Dr. Steven Fluharty, Professor of Pharmacology in the School of Veterinary Medicine with secondary appointments as professor of Neuroscience and Pharmacology in the School of Medicine and Professor of Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences, served as director of the Biological Basis of Behavior Program from 1994 to 2005 and is now the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn. In 2001, the position of Associate Director was created to provide greater academic and advising support for the students in the BBB Program. Dr. Jennifer Heerding has held the post since its inception.
In 2006, the BBB directorship was transferred to Dr. Ted Abel, Brush Family Professor of Biology. By 2010, Dr. Abel and Dr. Marc Schmidt, Professor of Biology, became co-directors of the Program, a role they shared in addition to co-directing BBB 251, Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience. While Dr. Abel’s lab specialized in uncovering the molecular mechanisms of learning, Dr. Schmidt’s lab examined the neural pathways involved in song bird behavior. In 2016, Dr. Abel departed to chair the Iowa State University School of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience. Dr. Lori Flanagan-Cato, Associate Professor of Psychology, joined Dr. Schmidt as co-director in 2018. With a research background in neuroendocrinology, Dr. Flanagan-Cato supports BBB’s public education efforts in the West Philadelphia community.