About

e75470c6ee98278ea101c84d8a9ba23eBio: Peggy Mason grew up in the Washington DC area and worked in taxidermy at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History during middle and high school. She received her BA in Biology in 1983 and her PhD in Neuroscience in 1987, both from Harvard. After postdoctoral work at the University of California – San Francisco, she joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1992. Dr Mason is now Professor of Neurobiology. For more than 20 years, Dr Mason’s research was focused on the cellular mechanisms of pain modulation. In the last ten plus years, Dr Mason has turned her energies to the biology of empathy and helping behavior in rats. Dr Mason taught medical students for 25 years and wrote a textbook for medical students, now in its second edition (Medical Neurobiology, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2017). Dr Mason started the Neuroscience major at UChicago and was awarded the Quantrell Award, the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching, in 2018. More broadly, Dr Mason is a neuroevangelist, interested in teaching neurobiology to anyone that will listen. To that end, Dr Mason publishes a blog at https://thebrainissocool.com/ and has offered a massively open online course, Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life through Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/course/neurobio) since 2014 with a cumulative enrollment of more than 270,000.

28 Comments »

  1. Hats off to your efforts in spreading the awareness about “the matter” through Neurobiology course on Coursera. It has rekindled my interest to pursue higher studies in the field. How can I be your mentee? I am a 49 year old behavioral change facilitator & a coach, with 27 years of work experience in diverse areas.

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  2. Hi Peggy,

    Thanks for a quick response. What I like is your dexterity, be it technology or the science; you are au fait.
    Well, I am based out of Hyderabad, a metro in South India. I see that you grew up in DC. I have some very fond memories of my stay there, when I was based out of Bolling AFB in 2009 (especially the Cherry blossoms’ around this time, besides the visits to museums and monuments nearby).

    Cheers,
    Mahesh.

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  3. Hi Professor !! Nice to see you again !! Do you remember me? I’m Alessandro Balzerani, the “Italian biker” that frequented your amazing course in 2015. I’ve sent you a pic on Twitter … taken from my final project ““A motorbike day on track – neurobiology of the speed”. Cheers 🙂

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  4. Dr. Mason,

    I am taking your class online. Thank you for putting so much effort into this class and for your sense of humor 🙂 I am really enjoying every video.

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    • It’s such a good question. One definition of pain (this is from Howard Fields) is that it is an unpleasant perception that arises from a part or parts of the body and is commonly associated with tissue damage. By this definition itch would be pain. It’s unpleasant and comes from a part of the body. But we all have different words for pain and itch and that belies a deeper truth that they are distinct perceptions. Laboratory researchers working in non human animals define itch as something that elicits scratching and pain as something that elicits shaking biting ducking or guarding. [Think of a kid and how they react to an injury to picture this.]

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  5. Hi,
    Despite my total lack of scientific vocabulary, I’m very much enjoying your Neurobiology class on Coursera, but while I’m traveling (now in Africa) it’s very difficult to find internet connections strong enough for videos, and when I download them, I can’t find them anywhere in my computer.

    So, my strategy has been to get through the necessary sections and skip the extras until I’m back in the US in April. Now I realize that the course will be completed a week before I return to the US, so will I still have access to the materials at that time? or do I have to wait until the course is offered again?

    I’m having eye surgery this summer due to some cranial nerve damage and chose this course to learn more about how nerves, vision, hearing and balance all work — before meeting with the surgeon (to at least partly understand his explanations), so timing is important.

    Thank you!

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    • Hi Hilary,
      Lots of issues. Let me go one by one. The course will be forever open to you, I don’t know about the certificate but certainly the course resources. You can only enter the course at certain times – the start of each month – but then the course remains open indefinitely.
      I would love to hear about your CN damage and about the surgery you will be having. I am sure that blog readers will also be interested if you’re willing to share.
      Enjoy Africa. I was in Burundi for a summer way back in 1975 and it was a profound experience.
      All the best,
      P

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  6. Hi,

    [I’m not looking for a certificate, but just want to gain enough of an overview to participate in the medical decision about how to proceed.]

    And yes, I’ll be happy to share. Apparently what I have is rather unusual, so hopefully my experience can help someone. After this upcoming event (in Morocco), I’ll dig out my medical reports to figure out what’s relevant and share it.

    Take care,
    Hilary

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    • You should have no problem getting into the site forever more.
      Enjoy Morocco. Sounds very exciting and extra-ordinary. Looking forward to hearing from you when you have time.
      Best
      P

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  7. Hello professor Peggy
    i’m an Engineer, i’m interested in learning about the brain and how it is working to know how to deal in my life and how to control myself, i’m currently learning your general course of the nervous system , it is very satisfying and simple , you don’t make it complex, i can also feel your passion and motivation at this course and also i feel from videos that you are having fun teaching this course which make me so satisfied and simply understand you
    i’m very grateful for this course and thank you for your effort, i have searched a lot about your contacts to say these words till i found this website
    thank you and looking forward to contact with you
    wish you the happiness at all your life

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    • Dear Mustafa
      Thank you for finding me and sending me this message. I’m so glad that you like the course. It makes me very happy that you and others can learn about the joys of Neurobiology.
      All the best
      P

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  8. Hello Professor Peggy!

    My name is Kristina, I’m 27 years old, I live in Ukraine. My first legal education, but with the child’s birth and the search for answers to many questions regarding the upbringing and development of the baby, I came to neuropsychology and neurobiology.

    And the future I want to share information with the world, based on neuroscience, on the upbringing and development of children from birth to 6 – 7 years, possibly age qualifications, with time, will change. I still do not know how and in what form this will take place, but I know that I can not remain silent and watch how most mistakes in the upbringing and development of a child can be avoided, understanding how our brain works.

    Now I will continue your course, after, I want to study your book. But, unfortunately, not having a basic knowledge of biology and neuroscience, studying such a huge layer of knowledge is quite difficult.

    I ask you, tell me the vectors by which I could move in the study of this field. From what works, courses I should start and what to strive for.

    Thank you for your knowledge, experience and time,
    Kristina Ledenova

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  9. Dr. Mason, I am also taking the Coursera MOOC on Neurobiology and am thoroughly enjoying it. I have 0 science background and English is not my first language but your explanations are very clear. Probably because one can immediately feel how passionate you are. So, thank you!!

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  10. Hi Peggy sorry 2 hear that youe wonderful dad passed away but happy he didnt suffer too much. I wish u and all your loved ones much health and happiness

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  11. “The ions that are involved in “making” the membrane potential are potassium, hydrogen and calcium ions.” I’m doing your online course and I just love the way you explain things. HOw can we contact you in case of need? I know you have plenty of students and you surely will not have time to answer all, but in case on need or in case that we find a mistake in the explanations who should we contact? Thanks – Toni

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  12. Hi there, I just started your course on Coursera. Just wanted to drop by and say what a wonderful soul you are!! Very grateful for a teacher like you, and for the first time I’m actually enjoying science! haha Awesome work, much blessings to you, and thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us.

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  13. Dr. Mason,

    To echo what other MOOCers have said, your enthusiasm for neurobiology is captivating. Having a passion for psychology (for personal enrichment) but no science background led me to your MOOC on Coursera. So many times I found myself laughing at your familiar anecdotes and smiling at your vivacity for neuroscience. I have thoroughly enjoyed your MOOC and wish I could learn from you endlessly! Would you believe that you made a cameo appearance in a dream of mine (normally, folks with whom I’ve had a profound conversation appear in my dream, but I believe you are the first person who I haven’t met IRL) ? Thank you for your passion and insight. You are a brilliant prof!

    -Ale

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  14. Hi Professor Mason.
    My name is Inês, I am 29 years old, and I am portuguese. I am an occupational therapist, job that I hope you had hear about. I work at an Hospital with people with neurological disabilities, furthermore I am fascinated about neuroscience and our brain works. That’s the reason that I spent my quarentine times doing your course “Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life!”.
    I couldn’t to tell you how much I enjoyed your classes, because your way to teach is so briliant, with the pratical examples and simplicity. In fact, you know a lot about this issue and you can transpor these knowledge to real people, to the practice, who don’t hapen often. I realy appreciated your way to finish the course, tolding us that it is in our hands the way to define our own experience and reactions.
    Thank you so much for your vision and for your way to spread you knowledge. If I liked neurosciences, now I love it and I want to know more and more.

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    • Dear Inês,
      Thank you so much for your note. I absolutely know about occupational therapy and have the highest regard for the field. I see OT as being on the front line and as the quintessential helping profession. You cut to the chase as we say and make people’s lives work for them. I am a great admirer.
      I am so glad you decided to sojourn in Neuro-land during the quarantine. I have the impression that more and more people are taking online courses now that life is safer at home than out, regardless of whether we are under a quarantine at the moment. And for me, it is so rewarding to hear from students such as you.
      Thank you for writing and be well,
      Peggy

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  15. Ma’am I’m really, really grateful to you for putting your lectures on Youtube on neurology. I’m so overwhelmed right now but I’m failing to express that duly with words.. I’m an MBBS graduate from India, currently studying for my PG entrance exam at home. Your videos were like a godsend for me. Your videos are literally the only ones which make neurology easy to understand. I had subscriptions to other lectures beforehand for the MD entrance prep, but I was having a really hard time grasping the concepts of basal ganglia from those lectures. I discovered your videos amidst a desperate search to make sense of this stuff and not just cram the circuits, because I hate cramming; I just hate it. But your approach was very lucid & understandable & scientific in every way, as is expected for a revered professor such as yourself. I luckily ran into this website of yours and so I’d like to thank you heartily on your efforts. You’re a godsend to have uploaded such wonderful content in Youtube – those are absolute gems. I’m gonna use those videos as my first material whenever feasible. May you stay healthy & well in these testing times – I wish you health & happiness to the fullest ma’am.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Rohan,
      I am so happy to read that my videos helped you. Thank you very much for taking the time to write. That means a great deal. Health and happiness to you and yours.
      Peggy

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  16. Hello, Dr. Peggy Mason! “Amphibians’ vision, like that of other vertebrates, has one important feature – they cannot see stationary objects. In mammals, this defect is compensated by the fact that the eyes themselves never remain stationary, but constantly make small oscillating movements, which makes the objects in question visible. In frogs and toads, the eyes are stationary. It is true that breathing movements cause displacements of the head, but they are too small and do not help the visual function at all. For amphibians, however, the immobility of the eyes is a boon. The surrounding world is too complex for a primitive frog’s brain. Being able to see several objects at the same time, they would not be able to understand the chaos of visual impressions. As it is, no moving object, no matter where it comes from, would remain unnoticed, because it is the only thing a frog sees. Other visual impressions do not distract it. Repeated, stereotypically repetitive movements amphibians are incapable of noticing. The trembling of leaves, the pendulum-like swaying of branches, the ripples on the water from the endless succession of tiny waves – all this does not prevent amphibians from being constantly on the alert. Such movements they simply do not see.” {1983 B.F. Sergeev – Amphibian World}

    Good afternoon! Do you happen to know similar phenomena and protective functions, biological mechanisms of our (human brain) or other mammals which protect us by limiting our consciousness from surrounding things which we cannot comprehend? Maybe you can recommend something to read on this subject? “The world around us is too complex for the primitive frog brain” I’m sure there are similar mechanisms in humans that prevent us from seeing more.
    I am a 10th grade student and I am very interested in this topic! I am preparing a project on it. I’m looking for information myself from books and articles, but so far I haven’t found much. So I thought, why not address this question to the head neuroscientist who has given me so much knowledge:)
    Sorry to take up your personal time, but maybe you know something on this topic? Thank you very much in advance for your answer!

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