B.Sc., M.Sc., Leiden University; Ph.D., Utrecht (The Netherlands)
Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
Investigates the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying animal behavior, using songbirds as a model system to study learning and memory.
I am a neurobiologist interested in the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying animal behavior. In the laboratory, we use songbirds to investigate how animals learn and how they acquire memories. A zebra finch male (Taeniopygia guttata) has to learn his song and long call from an adult tutor (often the father) early in development during a sensitive phase. Females do not sing themselves, but do prefer their fathers' song in a choice test and they produce a long call that is not learned. The zebra finch is a great model organism to study a broad range of questions, from social communication to auditory memory and learning of complex motor skills. We approach these questions from different levels, combining molecular techniques, neurophysiological methods and behavioral testing.
I am passionate to understand the role that sleep may or may not play in the formation of memory and to find out whether sleep has a function in the learning process. We recently published a study in Proc. Roy. Soc. B, showing that there is a correlation between neuronal activation during sleep and the strength of song learning in juvenile zebra finches in a region of the brain that likely contains the neural substrate of auditory memory. This opens up the possibility to investigate the role of sleep on the neuronal mechanisms underlying auditory and vocal learning and memory. I teach an advanced course on this topic at Wellesley (NEUR 325: Neuroscience of Sleep, Learning & Memory). In addition, I teach NEUR 100 (Brain, Behavior and Cognition: An Introduction to Neuroscience), NEUR 200 (Neurons, Networks, and Behavior), NEUR 300 (Capstone Seminar in Neuroscience), and a First Year Seminar on Animal Cognition (NEUR 110).
I do not have a twitter account yet, but I tweet with my birds – and they usually tweet back.