Brett Gibson

Brett Gibson, associate professor of psychology, has taught at the University of New Hampshire for ten years. Specializing in animal cognition, learning, and behavior, he has been working with the Clark Nutcracker since he was researching his own dissertation in the mid-1990s. His past research focused primarily on the bird’s memory and navigational abilities, but in recent years he has worked with students to investigate the Nutcracker’s knowledge of numbers. “These birds cache and recover tens of thousands of seeds each year that they use as energy for survival,” he marvels. “We think that having a keen sense of number may help them be more efficient during the cache and recovery process.” He was surprised by the success of this experiment and how the birds’ counting abilities showed through almost immediately. Gibson has mentored numerous students in his lab, many of whom have gone on to graduate school. Enthusiastic about Inquiry’s potential for helping science students to reach a broader audience in their writing, he notes, “One of the great challenges scientists have is conveying their research in an accessible form to the lay population.” Gibson is very thankful for the support that undergraduate research receives at UNH. Many people might be tempted to cut funding for projects about birds having a sense of numbers, he says, but the experience that students receive doing this kind of original research is integral to their development as scientists. “Students like Lindsay go on to fill positions at the highest levels of our society,” he concludes,  “and the hands-on training they get in the lab is invaluable.”