Plants, the Brain and Behavior:

A Chemical Love Story

Fall 2011

Journeys of Discovery



Honors 115 M04-CRN 42230




Who is

Fabian Garcia?



Instructor:   Dr. Elba Serrano

Ph. D.   Stanford University

Regents Professor

Research Interests:

Neuroscience, Biophysics, Nanoscience

Office      Foster 459

Office hours:    

Monday 11-1 pm, by appointment

Telephone:        646-5217

Email:       serrano AT nmsu DOT edu









Course Description: This class is for students curious about how the brain and the senses are intimately affected by chemical substances produced by plants. The course focuses on three classes of plant bioactive products that affect behavior: hallucinogenic chemicals, compounds that affect the pain systems of the body, and aromatic substances used in perfumes. The historical contribution of indigenous traditions to the development of synthetic medicinal compounds will be explored. Class sessions emphasize student discussion and use exploratory assignments as a format for promoting conversations that develop critical thinking ability.  Participation in this course will encourage the student to ask questions about the scientific process, to identify themes of personal interest in contemporary science, and to develop confidence in her/his oral communication skills.

About the instructor:

Dr. Elba Serrano is a neuroscientist and biophysicist who is interested in the potential of plant bioactive compounds to restore and protect cells of the nervous system. A Regents Professor, she is the Director of the RISE program whose goal is to provide research opportunities for NMSU students who aspire to doctoral careers in biomedical and biobehavioral research areas.

Required Materials


         Required: Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History (Laws).

         Recommended: The Compass of Pleasure (Linden); Flora Mirabilis (Howell)

         Look for books at the NMSU Bookstore, COAS Bookstore, the Campus bookstore and online (new and used).

Laptop Computers. Please bring laptops to class when requested in the detail schedule of assignments.

Internet.We will use publicly available internet educational material. the following sites can serve as useful resources







Course Overview



Botany of Desire (FILM)



The Brain and Senses- Core Concepts



The Plant World



The Chemical Brain: Neurotransmitters, Ions, and Synapses



Secret Life of the Brain-to Think by Feeling



Neuroscience of Smell and Taste



Plant Chemistry: Aromatics & Alkaloids






Neuroscience of Pain and Pleasure



Pain, Pleasure, & Plants



Brain Reward Systems and Plant Bioactives



Indigenous knowledge: Ayahuasca, A Case Study



Thanksgiving/No Class






EXAM WEEK CLASS: (Take Home Final, class meets 3:30-5:30)



Earning your grade (500 pts):


In class attendance: (180 pts) Based on your class attendance and participation (15 pts/class).

Portfolio assignment: (200 pts) Students will be asked to prepare a portfolio comprised of brief entries commenting on class discussion and readings and exercises that explore environments and molecules.  Details of the portfolioentries will be posted on the portfolio page

              Portfolio due dates:  Oct 11 (100 pts) and  Nov 29 (100 pts)

Reflective Writings (50 pts) Unannounced in class writing assignments (10 pts each)

Final Exam (70 pts). Take home assignment.

XEROX and/or BACKUP all assignments before submitting them to the instructor.

SAVE xeroxes of all graded assignments and exams from this course at least until you have received your final grade.

Grade Scale (500 pts)

        A 90-100 %

        B 80-89 %

        C 70-79 %

        D 60-69 %

        F < 60 %

        S (Satisfactory) requires a B-

        Note: The grade scale may be curved at the end of the semester at the discretion of the instructor.

Late assignments. 10% of the total points will be deducted for each week the assignment is late. Assignments will not be accepted if handed in more than 7 days after the due date.

Attendance: Discussion and class preparation are essential components of this class, therefore, students are expected to attend all classes except for a documented university business, medical emergency etc.  Documentation must be submitted if you are absent and it is best to inform the instructor in advance if possible if you will need to miss class.   

S/U Option: Students must meet all requirements of the course.  A grade of B- is required to receive an S in an Honors course.

Withdrawals: It is your responsibility to withdraw from the course. The instructor will not automatically drop you from the course for failure to attend class or to complete exams or assignments.

Incompletes, academic misconduct and make-up work:  Incompletes will be given only if a student has passed the first half of the course (attendance and assignments through October 11) and is precluded from completing the course by a documented illness or family crisis.  Make-ups of assignments for excused absences must be discussed with the instructor within 7 days of the due date of the assignment. There are no provisions for extra credit work. 

Important dates:


Portfolio 1†† Oct 11†† 100 pts

Portfolio 2†† Nov 29†† 100 pts                                    

TBA   Final exam (Take home)     70 pts




EMAIL: Official communication to you will often come through your NMSU e-mail box.  Please access it regularly, or forward it to your current use address, as your success in college may ride on your ability to respond quickly.

SYLLABUS MODIFICATION: The instructor reserves the right to modify this syllabus during the semester as considered necessary to enhance the quality of the instruction, to meet the needs of students in the class and to achieve course objectives. Any changes to the syllabus [or to the course schedule] will be announced in class and you are responsible for being aware of them.

CELL PHONE POLICY: All cell phones must be turned off during class.

HONORS COMPUTER CLUSTER is available for your use

HONORS DIRECTOR:  The Honors Director is Dr. William Eamon.  His office is in the Honors building.

GUIDELINES FOR CLASS DISCUSSION: During the semester, many opinions will be voiced in the class. You may strongly disagree with some of these, or you may find them amusing. Outbursts can be misinterpreted or counterproductive to meaningful and thoughtful debate. Therefore, it is important that you exercise self-discipline and self-control, and treat all members of the class with the courtesy that you are entitled to receive in turn. The key words are: respect and courtesy. Please turn off cell phones and beepers while in class.      Thank you!

COURSE REGISTRATION. If you drop a class on-line or are told that someone else will drop you, you need to check and make sure that the class was properly dropped.  The same applies to adding a class.

EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES. ICT Customer Service Center is equipped to deal with all of your information technology (IT) and telecommunications needs at NMSU.  The ICT Customer Service Center hours of operation are from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM Monday through Friday.  Please feel free to contact them at 646-1840 or via e-mail at You can also go to the Student Technology Help web page and the Student Resource tab on for additional information on NMSU Technology requirements. 

STUDENT ACCESSIBILITY SERVICES:   Additional information is available at

  • If you have or believe you have a disability and would benefit from any accommodations, you may wish to self-identify by contacting the Student Accessibility Services (SSD) Office located at Corbett Center (phone: 646-6840).
  • If you have already registered, please make sure that your instructor receives a copy of the accommodation memorandum from SSD within the first two weeks of classes.  It is your responsibility to inform either your instructor or SSD representative in a timely manner if services/accommodations provided are not meeting your needs.
  • If you have a condition which may affect your ability to exit safely from the premises in an emergency or which may cause an emergency during class, you are encouraged to discuss any concerns with the instructor and/or the SSD Coordinator.

EQUITY:  Feel free to call Jerry Nevarez, Director of Institutional Equity, at 575-646-3635 with any questions you may have about NMSUís Non-Discrimination Policy and complaints of discrimination, including sexual harassment.

ADA:    Feel free to call Diana Quintana, Coordinator of Services for Students with Disabilities, at 575-646-6840 with any questions you may have on student issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  All medical information will be treated confidentially.

PLAGIARISM:  Students found guilty of plagiarism have engaged in academic misconduct and shall be subject to disciplinary action. The current University definition of plagiarism can be found at     It reads as follows:


Plagiarism is using another personís work without acknowledgment, making it appear to be oneís own.  Any ideas, words, pictures, or other intellectual content taken from another source must be acknowledged in a citation that gives credit to the source. This is irrespective of the origin of the material, including the Internet, other studentsí work, unpublished materials, or oral sources.  Intentional and unintentional instances of plagiarism are considered instances of academic misconduct. It is the responsibility of the student submitting the work in question to know, understand, and comply with this policy.If no citation is given, then borrowing any of the following * would be an example of plagiarism.:

    • An idea or opinion, even when put into oneís own words (paraphrase)
    • A few well-said words, if these are a unique insight
    • Many words, even if one changes most of them
    • Materials assembled by others, for instance quotes or a bibliography
    • An argument
    • A pattern or idea
    • Graphs, pictures, or other illustrations
    • Facts
    • All or part of an existing paper or other resource

* This list is not meant to include all possible examples of plagiarism.


Even with a citation, failure to put quotation marks around direct quotations also constitutes plagiarism, because it implies that the writing is your own.   Material should either be paraphrased or clearly designated as a quotation.   Note that replacing words with synonyms, changing verb tense or other minor alterations do not qualify as paraphrasing.



is not meant to include all possible examples of plagiarism.


Even with a citation, failure to put quotation marks around direct quotations also constitutes plagiarism, because it implies that the writing is your own.   Material should either be paraphrased or clearly designated as a quotation.   Note that replacing words with synonyms, changing verb tense or other minor alterations do not qualify as paraphrasing.