- Ph.D. Neurobiology Harvard Medical School (2014)
- BA Biology (concentration in Neuroscience) Colby College (2005)
I am a neurobiologist who is passionate about teaching and training scientists. I have investigated a number of questions related to cellular and molecular mechanisms of neurologic disease during my career. While at Harvard Medical School, I purified a Parkinson’s disease-associated protein from human brain tissue and explored the effect of toxic forms of this protein on the function of tissue culture cells and isolated mitochondria. Over the last several years, I have been using cellular, molecular, genetic, and behavioral approaches to identify and characterize genes that regulate synaptic development and function with the hope of better understanding how these processes can go awry in the context of disease.
In both classroom and lab settings I strive to instill in students that science is not a collection of facts. It is a process - a way of learning and of challenging our conceptions about what we’ve already learned. I believe that conducting inquiry-based research (whether in lab classes or independent study) imparts values that are ingrained in science. My research training has taught me how to collaborate, ask critical questions, solve problems, be resilient in the face of challenges, and communicate with a variety of audiences. I feel strongly that these transferable skills are useful to all students regardless of whether they choose a career in biology.
In my free time I enjoy going for walks in the woods with my family and taking (far too many) pictures.
What I Teach
- Anatomy and Physiology (BIOL 231)
- Animal Physiology (BIOL 222)
- Independent Lab Research (BIOL 350)
- Neurobiology (BIOL 334)
Our entire experience of the world relies on neurons sending and receiving neurotransmitter signals at specialized connections called synapses. Synapses that use the neurotransmitter glutamate are the most abundant type of neuronal connection in the brain. These synapses are highly dynamic, and changing their strength - in part by modifying the number of glutamate receptors on the surface of the downstream cell - provides the cellular basis of learning and memory. In my lab, we use cellular, molecular, genetic, and behavioral approaches to explore the following questions: What genes are important for the formation and function of glutamate synapses during nervous system development? How do they work together to control neuronal function and, ultimately, animal behavior?
To answer these questions, we enlist the help of a small, but powerful model organism: the microscopic worm C. elegans. These worms have a completely defined nervous system (meaning we know the precise location of all their neurons and their connections to each other) and exhibit behaviors associated with the function of specific neuronal circuits. Best of all, they’re transparent. This means we can observe the abundance and localization of fluorescent proteins in intact, living animals, and we can use optogenetics to activate individual neurons with light to trigger specific behaviors!
Our research will help illuminate the mechanisms of synaptic restructuring during learning and memory. Understanding how glutamate synapses are maintained during normal nervous system development may also provide insight into cellular processes and molecular pathways that go awry in the context of neurological disorders.