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5 Things About Me: Neurobiologist (retired) Louise Luckenbill

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AAAS member Louise Luckenbill took up watercolor painting and collage after retirement. She likes to paint landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, gardens, flowers, and trees and has exhibited her paintings in several one-woman shows. (Photo: Harvey Culbert)

Louise Luckenbill
Cellular/Developmental/Neurobiologist, retired for 15 years
Oberlin, Ohio

Background: My career followed the usual pattern -- I did several years of postdoc research, then spent nearly 30 years "in the trenches," teaching and researching at different educational levels, from liberal arts college to public university and medical school. My research demonstrated the interaction between the extracellular matrix that surrounds cells during the migration of embryonic neural crest cells, or during the outgrowth of neuronal processes.  I used cell and organ culture, as well as electron microscopy.

Currently, I've just completed a series of classes on the neurobiology of brain dysfunction in the lifelong-learning program of the local community college. Teaching a group of retirees (mostly nonscientists) as students was both challenging and rewarding.

Question 1: Tell us why you chose your particular field of study, why did it grab your interest and fuel your curiosity?
Answer: With a father who was a high-school biology teacher, I grew up experiencing, for example, how an earthworm feels in my hand, what makes a grasshopper "spit tobacco juice," and how a cicada sings. I think those adventures helped to fuel my interest in biology. Then, in college I had fun doing simple experiments on frog embryos and became fascinated with figuring out how "things\ work. I was lucky because my choice of a career in science coincided with the launching of Sputnik, which led to funding support for science students in the U.S.

Question 2: Why did you become a scientist?
Answer: I became a scientist because I like finding answers to questions and figuring out how things work. An alternative was sociology, but I'm glad now that I chose the more materialistic and practical field. It was only much later in life that young people said to me, \"Louise, at the time, you were a pioneer woman in a man's field." I never encountered a glass ceiling as a student or postdoc, not an unusual situation in biology then or now. During the years I trained, the career pattern was to go straight through graduate school, postdoc, to job. At the time, the teaching/research career, while attractive, seemed to be the only choice. Academic politics can be petty, as the saying goes, but there were two rewards: the insights gained from getting an experiment to work and sharing those insights with the world, plus the excitement of mentoring students in my lab.

Question 3: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
Answer: My passion, outside of science, is making art. I took up watercolor painting and collage after retirement, on the hunch that I had the genes for spatial visualization, having a great-grandmother who amused her grandchildren (my father) by drawing on a slate. Landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, gardens, flowers, trees -- I enjoy depicting all of them and have exhibited these subjects in several one-woman shows. Art has done several things for me. It has enhanced my awareness of the world, given me a new voice to express social concerns, and provided a medium for creating something beautiful.

Question 4: What's playing on your music player?
Answer: I'm playing Bach on my piano, trying to recapture the musical prowess I had before arthritis kicked into my hands. It's working.

Question 5: What's your favorite food...are you a chef?
Answer: Cooking in the kitchen is like doing experiments in the lab. I cook with herbs and olive oil and love concocting salads from whatever I find in the refrigerator. The experimental part is anticipating the way different tastes and textures will combine to make a delicious, nutritious experience. 

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AAAS member Louise Luckenbill took up watercolor painting and collage after retirement. She likes to paint landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, gardens, flowers, and trees and has exhibited her paintings in several one-woman shows. (Photo: Harvey Culbert)
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