Departments of Biology and Psychology
Class of 2017
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.
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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