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Graduate Program: Research Areas

Concentration in Physiology, Neurobiology and Biomechanics

Neurobiology is the study of how nervous systems function. It is currently one of the largest and fastest growing areas of biology. At its most reductionist level neurobiology employs genetic and molecular approaches and at it extends to the level of whole animal behavior and social interactions.
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Faculty mentors:

Barry Trimmer
Eric Tytell
Michael Romero
Michael Levin
Associated faculty mentors not currently accepting graduate students: Harry Bernheim

Trimmer Laboratory

Dr. Trimmer is interested in the control of locomotion and the neural processes that organize sensory and motor information. He is the head of two integrated research labs — the Neuromechanics Laboratory uses an insect (the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta) as its primary model system because it has a brain with fewer neurons and their activity can be monitored in freely moving animals and in isolated parts of the central nervous system. Manduca is used to identify how soft animals control their movements, looking at the neural active underlying crawling and defensive striking. This work also examine how a caterpillar "feels", what does it sense when it moves around in the world? The Biomimetic Devices Laboratory focuses on applying biological principles in the design, fabrication and control of new types of machines, including soft robots. These robots can be 3D-printed and used to test ideas about locomotion control and structural design. One of our long-term goals is to "grow" robotic devices using a combination of biosynthetic materials, cellular modulation, and tissue engineering. We are exploring how invertebrate cell culture can be used to structure muscles and supporting tissues on scaffolds of biomaterials.

Tytell Laboratory

Research in the Tytell laboratory focuses on understanding the neural control and biomechanics of locomotion in fishes. We aim to understand how neural circuits, body mechanics, fluid dynamics, and sensory systems work together to allow animals to move effectively through complex and unpredictable environments. The work is highly interdisciplinary, integrating neuroscience, sensory and muscle physiology, and functional morphology with quantitative, computational, and engineering techniques. We also use comparative techniques to understand the evolution of functional differences in locomotory performance in vertebrates.

Romero Laboratory

Work in the Romero laboratory integrates several levels of physiological regulation in examining the adaptive role of stress responses in wildlife populations. The experimental subjects are wild birds and mammals and captive starlings and house sparrows. This research consists of intimately intertwined laboratory and field studies in the areas of physiology, ecology, and neuroscience, all with the goal of increasing our comprehension of the causes and effects of stress.

Levin Laboratory

The capacity to generate a complex organism from the single cell of a fertilized egg is one of the most amazing qualities of multicellular animals. The processes involved in laying out a basic body plan and defining the structures that will ultimately be formed depend upon a constant flow of information between cells and tissues. The Levin laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms cells use to communicate with one another in the 4-dimensional dynamical system known as the developing embryo, and the flow of information necessary for an injured system to recognize what structures must be rebuilt. Through experimental approaches and mathematical modeling, we examine the processes governing large-scale pattern formation and biological information storage during animal embryogenesis and regeneration. Our investigations are directed toward understanding the mechanisms of signaling between cells and tissues that allows a biological system to reliably generate and maintain a complex morphology. We study these processes in the context of embryonic development and regeneration, with a particular focus on the biophysics of cell behavior. In contrast to other groups focusing on gene expression networks and biochemical signaling factors, we are pursuing, at a molecular level, the roles of endogenous voltages, pH gradients, and ion fluxes as epigenetic carriers of morphological information. Using gain- and loss-of-function techniques to specifically modulate cells' ion flow we have the ability to regulate large-scale morphogenetic events relevant to limb formation, eye induction, etc. While our focus is on the fundamental mechanisms of pattern regulation, this information will also result in important clinical advances through harnessing the biophysical controls of cell behavior.

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