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George Mason University

Very few people are happier at the prospect of working around a bunch of rats than Bob Smith.

VHFY’s longest continuously funded university researcher, Smith is a professor of psychology and former department chair at George Mason University. Through more than a decade of VFHY-funded work with laboratory rats, Smith discovered that the adolescent brain is anatomically, functionally and permanently changed by the use of nicotine.

“It’s been really eye-opening,” says Smith, who is transitioning into retirement but plans to remain involved with VFHY. “We’ve now really got definitive evidence that adolescent nicotine [use] … causes some widespread remodeling in the brain.”

His research findings have been published in numerous neuroscience journals and in 2013 he delivered a well-received presentation at a conference held by the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.

Smith found that just one use causes changes in the adolescent brain with “enduring effects to addiction- and emotion-related behaviors” into adulthood. Cooperative research by GMU Assistant Psychology Professor Craig McDonald has confirmed that college students who smoked as teens express differences in how they process information compared to students who have never smoked.

“Preventing it, I think, is the only way to avoid nicotine-induced changes in the brain,” Smith says, “so that makes it doubly important that kids not begin to smoke. Nicotine for adolescents seems to be a very bad idea.”