When asked if he always wanted to be a scientist, Russell D. Romeo answers instantly and without equivocation: "Absolutely not. When I arrived at college, I planned to major in music theory and train as a classical guitarist."

But Edinboro University's first-year courses in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy introduced him to the study of human behavior and the workings of the brain.
"For me, the combination of those courses was the perfect storm of getting interested in the mind," Romeo recalls. "I decided I didn't want to be a starving artist my whole life. I decided to be a starving scientist instead."

After graduating with a major in psychology, Romeo entered the master's program in experimental psychology at Villanova University, working with the husband-and-wife neuroscience team of Ingeborg and O. Byron Ward. Their collective research documented the effects of a pregnant women's stress levels and alcohol use on the developing fetal brain and nervous system, on sexual differentiation in the fetus, and on the subsequent sexual behavior of male and female offspring. Later, in doctoral work at Michigan State and during a postdoctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University, Romeo shifted most of his focus from the developing fetal brain to the developing adolescent one.

"Over the past decade, we've begun to appreciate the tremendous maturation that continues through adolescence and young adulthood," he says. "Imaging of the brain shows significant changes in the areas that control emotionality, risk taking, impulsivity, and cognitive ability. We know that during adolescence, stress hormones can disturb the development of these areas and have long-term negative effects."

Using state-of-the-art techniques like immunofluorescence histochemistry, in situ hybridization, and confocal microscopy, Romeo is currently looking at how stress during puberty affects physiological, psychological, and behavioral functions in adulthood. Last year, his work in this area earned him the Young Investigator Award from the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology.

At Barnard, he is training a new generation of young scientific investigators. He teaches the fall semester course "Science and Scientists," an introductory seminar that brings distinguished researchers and physicians into the classroom to personally answer questions about their work and what drew them to their chosen fields. In the spring, Romeo will teach "Behavioral Neuroscience," in which he will introduce students to the nervous system and the physiological bases of behavior and thought.