Senior Molly Kwiatkowski won first prize for her research poster at the 40th annual Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego this November.

Of 120 posters displayed, 14 were nominated for the award, which is funded by the German Graduate Schools of Neuroscience and consists of a fully funded weeklong trip to Germany to explore various neuroscience graduate programs.

"I'll probably go after I graduate," Kwiatkowski said of the trip, "I don't think I would have time to go any time soon."

Kwiatkowski, who described herself as "very surprised" by the result of the conference, traveled to California with her mentor, Professor of Natural Sciences Patsy Dickinson and 10 other neuroscience majors.

At the conference, the students presented their research to an international crowd of 31,500 neuroscientists.

"We send students every year," Dickinson said. "Last year we sent 14 and I think we had the largest representation of any undergraduate institution. Students go to other [conferences] but this is the biggest one.

Despite the College's considerable presence at the conference, however, Kwiatkowski, who presented a poster at last year's conference as well, is the first Bowdoin student to ever win the award, which has gone to a Bates student for the past two years.

Her research examines neural processes in lobsters that control simple rhythmic behaviors such as walking, breathing, and in Kwiatkowski's case, chewing.

According to Dickinson, the relatively simple lobster nervous system makes it much easier to study those processes in great detail; she also noted that most of the general principles that have been found to govern neural activity in lobsters also hold true for more complex organisms as well.

Although the research is part of Kwiatkowski's senior honors project, she actually began her study of lobster neural processes before her first year at Bowdoin.

"I'm from Maine, originally, and the summer after my senior year, I worked in the lab of one of Patsy's first undergraduate researchers; that's how I met Patsy and she told me I had a place in her lab if I wanted it, said Kwiatkowski.

"I took her up on it and I've been working in the lab ever since," she said.

In addition to her success presenting her poster, Kwiatkowski was the only undergraduate to speak at the conference of stomatogastric neuroscientists that convened the day before the major conference.

"Patsy asked me if I would do it," Kwiatkowski said. "It was really exciting but also really nerve-wracking just because essentially everyone in the audience had Ph.D.'s in the subject and I am just doing my undergraduate research."

Kwiatkowski will continue her research with Dickinson for the rest of the year and into the summer.

"There are still a lot of questions to be answered," Dickinson said.

Next year, however, Kwiatkowski hopes to change the direction of her inquiry.

"I want to try to get some clinical experience next year, or at least start working with higher model systems like humans or rats," said Kwiatkowski.

"I really enjoy what I'm doing right now, but I don't think I could go straight to grad school in this line of research," she said. "I want to see what else is out there."

Scientific research figures into Kwiatkowski's long-term goals.

"As far as big future plans go, I'd like to get my M.D. and my Ph.D., and I'd like to combine research with actual clinical practice; I think that's one of the most effective ways to further scientific research," she said.

Kwiatkowski's award-winning research project was funded by a Beckman fellowship, a Goldwater fellowship and a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.