Teaches: Principles of Psychology (125), Biopsychology (238), and Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (337).
Research Area: The Neurobiology of Navigation
I'm especially excited about exploring the intersection of brain and behavior, and my research program is guided primarily by questions about the neural mechanisms of navigation and spatial cognition. The firing activity of a certain type of neurons (“head direction” (HD) cells) found in several brain areas is thought to represent the animal’s perceived orientation, or "sense of direction." These HD cells fire relative to the direction an animal's head is pointing, acting something like an internal compass, so need to be constantly updated by sensory input as an animal moves through its environment. But how is information contained in the firing activity of these cells used by the animal when solving a spatial task? How does this neural activity relate to the animal’s navigational behavior? What is the status of the HD cell network, and is there any directional information still preserved in the firing of these HD cells, while an animal is in an unconscious state? To answer these questions, we have the amazing opportunity to observe the electrical activity of a “behaving” brain in action in real-time at the level of a single neuron while freely-moving rats perform spatial tasks.