Macalester Today Spring 2011

Two Pain Connections

FROM A YOUNG AGE, Lin Aanonsen was drawn to science by the wonder of it all, and since 1989 she has shared that wonder with Macalester students, teaching them the intricacies of human physiology, cellular and molecular neuroscience, neuropharmacology, and cell biology. “I love teaching cell biology,” says Aanonsen, with obvious awe. “The cell is the smallest unit of life, yet it contains within it the program for its own death.”

Her research, which focuses on the mechanisms of pain transmission in the spinal cord, especially those underlying chronic pain, has involved some 60 students over the years. In 2003 Aanonsen (top) was
presented with Macalester’s Excellence in Teaching Award

Last fall English professor Ping Wang brought to Aanonsen’s “brain” lab the students in her creative writing course on pain and healing. When Aanonsen placed a human brain in a student’s hands, the room was suffused with a reverence both for the organ itself and for the person who had donated it to science.

The power of that kind of interdisciplinary connection has led Aanonsen to teach two new courses. In fall 2011 she and Wang will team teach “Mind and Matter,” a class that will explore the interconnectedness of all things through readings and discussion, lab and fieldwork, and creative writing.

Aanonsen will also teach a first-year course called “The Heart and Soul of Biology.” Although both classes will touch upon science and spirituality, “These courses will not be about preaching,” says Aanonsen. “It’s science, but it’s also about asking the questions—how do science and art, the physical and the spiritual intersect?—while making the classroom inviting to all.”

Aanonsen was recently named the O.T. Walter Endowed Professor of Biology and gave her inaugural lecture in March on the topic “What Pain Can Teach Us.”classroom inviting to all.”

“It’s truly a great honor and very humbling for me, especially given that Jan Serie held this chair before me,” says Aanonsen.

In January another recently honored professor, Karine Moe of Economics, gave her inaugural lecture, having been named the F. R. Bigelow Professor of Economics.