B.A., Dartmouth College; M.S., Ph.D., Michigan State University
Associate Professor of Neuroscience
Mission: to determine the distributed neural correlates of perception.
I’m interested in the physical basis of consciousness. What is it about the matter in a living brain that makes it experience perceptions, feelings, and thoughts? A first step in the neuroscientific approach to this perplexing question is to relate the activities of neurons to different mental states. My research focuses on sensory integration in rats, attempting to understand how neural activity in different parts of the brain gets combined or coordinated to generate a single coherent perception. Because we can only infer mental states in rats from their behavior, I record electrical impulses from many neurons at once while the rats perform behavioral tasks that depend on correctly sensing particular stimuli. Understanding the neural mechanisms of perception could lead to insights into human disorders that disrupt normal perceptual integration, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dyslexia, or attention deficit disorder.
In Neurons, Networks, and Behavior, we discuss the neurophysiology of learning and memory, sensory and motor systems, disorders of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and end with a focus on sleep, attention, and consciousness. In the lab we experience important neuroscientific methods, such as staining and slicing brains for histological analysis, and extra- and intra-cellular electrophysiological recordings in crayfish. Recently we have been excited to incorporate a rabbit model of Alzheimer’s disease into the neurochemistry portion of the lab. In Computational Neuroscience, we learn how mathematical modeling and computer simulation can provide insight into the brain’s impressive functions. Along the way we learn Matlab, a powerful but user-friendly computing language. I’ve also enjoyed teaching the NEUR 100 practicum—sheep brains!—and our capstone special topics seminar (NEUR 300).
I recently published a study of learning-related changes to tactile sensory responses in rat cortex in collaboration with Eric Thomson and Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University. I’m also pursuing a computational modeling approach to color perception using Bevil Conway’s neural data from monkeys observing sets of colored stimuli.
I also like to practice aikido, play rock-and-roll guitar, and go on backpacking trips.