Sara Wasserman

Kresa Family Assistant Professor of Neuroscience

Research utilizes fruit flies & 'virtual-reality' flight simulators to investigate the neuronal mechanisms that permit the multi-sensory integration required to produce contextually appropriate behavior.

My interest and training in research began during my time as an undergraduate at Wellesley College where I double majored in neuroscience and theater studies. I did independent research in the laboratory of Dr. Barbara Beltz investigating the circadian control of neuronal apoptosis in crayfish. Upon graduation from Wellesley I spent two years developing and teaching a science based curriculum for elementary school students while simultaneously earning a Master’s degree in education from Pepperdine University. During this time my interest in pursuing further training in neuroscience was solidified. In graduate school I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Piali Sengupta at Brandeis University studying the molecular and physiological mechanisms of thermotaxis behavior in C. elegans. A significant portion of my doctorate work was done in collaboration with Dr. Aravi Samuel’s lab in the Physics Department at Harvard University. My experiences and training as a graduate student exposed me to the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Using cutting-edge techniques combined with powerful genetic tools available to those working with model organisms, my colleagues and I were able to investigate the genes, neurons, and circuits that underlie thermotaxis behavior.

My postdoctoral training in the Frye Lab continued to allow me to utilize a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the complex behaviors of flying Drosophila melanogaster. My current research focuses on examining the genetic identities, cellular mechanisms, circuit physiology, and computations that underlie the behavioral algorithms that allow nervous systems to discriminate and assign subjective value to sensory stimuli in order to generate appropriate behavioral outputs under varying internal and external state changes.

Education

  • B.A., Wellesley College
  • M.A., Pepperdine University
  • Ph.D., Brandeis University

Current and upcoming courses

  • This course will provide a broad introduction to neuroscience, focusing on examples and approaches from cellular and molecular, cognitive, behavioral, systems, and computational neuroscience. The lecture aspect of the course will be accompanied by a 75-minute practicum in which students will engage directly in experimental neuroscience.
  • What are the neuronal mechanisms and computations that allow an animal to translate sensory information into appropriate decisions and behavior? Neuroethology seeks to understand how a nervous system translates information from the external and internal environment to behavior by examining the whole animal in its natural state. Topics will be introduced via primary literature and reviewed in lecture, followed by student-led presentations and discussions. What are the moral and societal implications of gaining a better understanding of how the brain controls behavior? We will also discuss how neuroscience and philosophy inform our understanding of free will and how neuroscience is incorporated into the courtroom. This is a Maurer Public Speaking course and will offer multiple opportunities in lecture to learn and practice skills for speaking for a technical and non-technical audience.
  • What are the neuronal mechanisms and computations that allow an animal to translate sensory information into appropriate decisions and behavior? Neuroethology seeks to understand how a nervous system translates information from the external and internal environment to behavior by examining the whole animal in its natural state. Topics will be introduced via textbook and primary literature and reviewed in lecture, followed by student-led presentations and discussions. What are the moral and societal implications of gaining a better understanding of how the brain controls behavior? We will end with an introduction to the neuroscience of morality and philosophy. This is a Maurer Public Speaking course and will offer multiple opportunities to learn and practice skills for speaking for a technical and non-technical audience.