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Martha Rimniceanu
Departments of Biology and Psychology
Class of 2017

Research Interests:
In studying the link between brain and behavior, I'm particularly interested in understanding how animals perceive their environment at the level of neural circuits. The ability of an organism to discern and respond to relevant stimuli rapidly can determine its continued survival. Sensory information encoded in distinct neural pathways is crucial to the perception, recognition and response to a host of stimuli. But how do organisms constantly select which stimuli to attend to and which to ignore? Are there certain stimuli that are perceived but do not elicit responses and instead serve different functions? These are some questions we can begin answering using electrophysiology techniques in invertebrates. Investigating their less complex nervous systems gives us valuable insights into the integration of cognition and behavior at the level of neural pathways. I'm also keen on exploring how biomimetics and engineering principles can be informed by biological systems.

Current Project:
My current research focuses on the process of thermosensation in Manduca sexta. To understand how the animal senses heat, we can deliver a precise, controlled amount of thermal energy to the cuticle using an infrared laser and record the neural activity elicited by this stimulus. I'm using this technique to characterize the neural mechanisms behind heat sensing. The activity patterns of neurons that make up Manduca's peripheral nervous system can tell us a great deal about how the animal localizes the heat stimulus and mobilizes an appropriate response. Additionally, modeling how a soft invertebrate like Manduca sexta organizes and integrates sensory information can lead to valuable advances in robotic sensory feedback.

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