Speaker and Discussant Bios

Helen Barbas [Workshop 2, Speaker]

Our research centers on the organization of the prefrontal cortex and its role in central executive functions in primates. The goal is to investigate prefrontal pathways that interface with both excitatory and inhibitory neurons in cortical and subcortical structures that may provide the basis for the selection of relevant information and suppression of irrelevant information in behavior. Research involves investigation of bidirectional pathways between prefrontal cortices and structures associated with sensory, cognitive, mnemonic and emotional processes in the cortex, the thalamus, and the amygdala.

Daniela Boassa [Workshop 2, Speaker]

Dr. Boassa is Director of Core efforts in Probe Development and Refinement at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) at the University of California San Diego. She has expertise in neuroscience, cell and molecular biology and sophisticated microscopy and analysis. She leads activities related to the development, characterization, enhancement and application of new molecular-genetic probes and chemical-labeling approaches for state-of-the-art correlated light and electron microscopy (CLEM). Her research interests focus on understanding normal and abnormal cell biological processes underlying neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Boassa uniquely possesses knowledge and hands-on experience on a variety of disciplines ranging from light microscopy, and EM, image analysis and 3D reconstructions, to molecular biology, biochemistry and electrophysiology, which she applies to her research projects implementing both in vivo and in vitro tools in a multidisciplinary approach.

Julia Buhmann [Workshop 4, Speaker]

Julia Buhmann is currently a PostDoc at the Institute of Neuroinformatics in Zurich. She did her PhD both in the Lab of Jan Funke at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Janelia Research Campus and in the lab of Matthew Cook (ETH Zurich). During her PhD, she developed AI-based algorithms for the detection of microtubules and synapses in Electron Microscopy Datasets of brain tissue. Together with the Funke Lab, she successfully overcame the challenges of processing a 100 TB image dataset resulting in synaptic partner predictions for the first whole-brain EM dataset of the fruit fly (FAFB).

Gwyneth Card [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Gwyneth received her B.S. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard and her PhD. in Bioengineering from Caltech.  She has been a Group Leader at Janelia since 2010.  Her lab is interested in simple perceptual decision-making and uses the Drosophila escape response as a model system.  Her lab combines high-throughput, high-resolution behavioral quantification with genetic, electrophysiological, and functional imaging techniques to assess the neural underpinnings of behavior in ecologically relevant situations.

Si Chen [Workshop 3, Speaker]

Si is a beamline scientist at the Advanced Photon Source. During her career at Argonne, Si has made a notable impact to the nano-imaging and microscopy. She has lead several strategic efforts including the development of the Bionanoprobe, which is a hard X-ray scanning nanoprobe with cryogenic capabilities and the first instrument of its kind in the world. 

Si’s primary research interests and expertise lie in the areas of X-ray microscopy, cryogenic methods, instrumentation and X-ray fluorescence data analysis. With colleagues at Argonne and collaborators from other institutions, Si has been successfully applied the advanced technologies to solve problems in a broad range of studies in the areas of  biological, biomedical, environmental and materials science.

Nuno da Costa [Workshop 2, Speaker]

Nuno Maçarico da Costa joined the Allen Institute in 2013 as an Assistant Investigator in the Neural Coding department. He leads the Network Anatomy group in its efforts map the wiring diagram of the mouse neocortex and its functional connectivity. Nuno graduated in Biology from the Faculty of Science of the University of Lisbon. Afterwards he moved north to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he studied the interactions between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in rats. After this period with the charming Danes, Nuno returned to Portugal and joined the Doctoral Program in Biology and Medicine of the Gulbenkian Foundation. He performed his doctoral research in the Institute of Neuroinformatics in Zurich and obtained a PhD degree in Natural Sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. During his PhD he described the fine structural detail of the thalamocortical pathway to cat visual cortex using light and electron correlated microscopy. He stayed in Zurich as a post-doc fellow and later as a Junior Group Leader investigating the network anatomy of the neocortex in several mammalian species.

Winfried Denk [Workshop 3, Speaker]
Catherine Dulac [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Dr. Dulac is the Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Lee and Ezpeleta Professor of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.

Catherine Dulac wants to understand the molecular, neuronal, and circuit basis of instinctive social behaviors. Dulac and her team apply molecular, genetic, and optical techniques in their investigations of the social brain, using the mouse as a model organism. Some of the team’s projects include identifying: the neuronal circuits underlying pheromone signaling in mating behaviors; the circuits underlying parental behavior and pup-directed aggression based on the animal’s sex and physiological state; the role of the amygdala in social and defensive behavior; and genomic imprinting in the developing and adult mouse brain.

Florian Engert [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Florian Engert received his Ph.D. in physics from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich 1997. He spent the following two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Munich, followed by two more years as a postdoc, first at the University of California. San Diego, and then at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2002, he accepted a position as assistant professor at Harvard University, where he received tenure and was promoted to full professor in 2009.

Michale Fee [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Michale Fee joined the McGovern Institute in 2003 and is currently the Glen V. and Phyllis F. Dorflinger Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. He received his PhD in Applied Physics from Stanford University in 1992. Before moving to MIT, he was a principal investigator in the Biological Computation Research Department at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

Kenneth Hayworth [Workshop 2, Speaker]

Kenneth Hayworth, President and Co-Founder of the Brain Preservation Foundation, is currently a Senior Scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus (JFRC) in Ashburn, Virginia. JFRC is perhaps the leading research institution in the field of connectomics in the United States. At JFRC, Hayworth is currently researching ways to extend Focused Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscopy (FIBSEM) imaging of brain tissue to encompass much larger volumes than are currently possible. For an overview of this work see his recent review paper and online presentation. Prior to moving to JFRC, Hayworth was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University. Hayworth is co-inventor of the Tape-to-SEM process for high-throughput volume imaging of neural circuits at the nanometer scale and he designed and built several automated machines to implement this process. Hayworth received a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Southern California for research into how the human visual system encodes spatial relations among objects. Hayworth is a vocal advocate for brain preservation and mind uploading and a co-founder of the Brain Preservation Foundation which calls for the implementation of an emergency glutaraldehyde perfusion procedure in hospitals, and for the development of a whole brain embedding procedure which can demonstrate perfect ultrastructure preservation across an entire human brain.

Elizabeth Hillman [Workshop 2, Speaker]

There is a crucial biological system that reaches every crevice of the brain, and yet goes unstudied by most neuroscientists. It is the vascular system, the network of vessels that carries oxygen-rich blood to hardworking nerve cells, called neurons. Elizabeth Hillman, PhD, a principal investigator at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, studies neurovascular coupling — or how neural activity in the brain drives changes in brain blood flow. Despite its importance, little is known about this critical aspect of brain function.

Keun-young Kim [Workshop 3, Speaker]
Joergen Kornfeld [Workshop 4, Speaker]

With a Master of Science in computational biology and bioinformatics from ETH Zurich, Jörgen contributes over 10 years of experience with machine learning and the analysis of massive microscopy image data sets. Jörgen received a Boehringer Ingelheim Fellowship for his doctoral studies with Prof. Dr. Winfried Denk at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Munich which he finished with highest honors. He is a postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Dr. Michale Fee at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and collaborates closely with laboratories at the New York University and Google AI.

Wei-Chung Allen Lee [Workshop 3, Speaker]
Xiaotang Lu [Workshop 2, Speaker]

Xiaotang Lu is a Postdoctoral Fellow from Prof. Jeff Lichtman’s group in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry from Tsinghua University and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interest revolves around the development of new methods and tools to illustrate structures at nanoscales. In her graduate research, she designed nanomaterials for solar cells and high-capacity lithium-ion batteries and developed in situ EM techniques to study materials’ structural change during electrochemical reactions. For her postdoc studies, Xiaotang became interested in the connections of neurons and decided to translate her expertise in nanotechnology to tackle challenges in brain imaging, particularly new methodologies for connectomics. Xiaotang has co-invented NATIVE (Nanobody-assisted tissue immunostaining for volumetric EM), a widely applicable immunostaining approach for intracellular targets while preserving tissue ultrastructures. She is currently developing enhanced osmium staining for the whole mouse brain connectome.

Gayathri Mahalingham [Workshop 4, Speaker]

Gayathri Mahalingam joined the Allen Institute in 2017 as a Scientist in the Neural Coding department. She works with the Network Anatomy group in its efforts to generate peta scale datasets with a goal of mapping the wiring diagram of the mouse neocortex and its functional connectivity. Gayathri graduated with a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Delaware with specializations in the field of Computer Vision and Machine Learning, and Biometrics. She worked as a Post-Doctoral fellow at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Sciences in Identity Sciences at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington before joining the Institute.

Gerald Rubin [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Gerald M. Rubin is a Senior Group Leader at the Janelia Research Campus. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then worked at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, earning his PhD in 1974 from the University of Cambridge. He did postdoctoral work with David S. Hogness at the Stanford University School of Medicine and held faculty positions at Harvard Medical School and the Carnegie Institution of Washington before moving to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1983 to assume the John D. MacArthur Professorship. He was appointed an HHMI investigator in 1987. He moved to HHMI headquarters in 2000 as a vice president and assumed overall planning responsibility for Janelia in 2002 and was appointed its first director in 2003, a position he held until January 2020.

Bernardo Sabatini [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Bernardo Sabatini obtained a Ph.D. from the Department of Neurobiology and his M.D. degree from the Harvard/Massachusetts Institute of Technology program in Health Sciences and Technology in 1999. Dr. Sabatini chose to not pursue further medical training, and instead began a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Karel Svoboda at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. After his postdoctoral research, Dr. Sabatini joined the faculty in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School in 2001. In 2008, Dr. Sabatini was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and, in 2010, was named the Takeda Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. His laboratory focuses on understanding the function and regulation of synapses in the mammalian brain with a particular interest in how the function of synapses is perturbed in human disease such as autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In order to conduct their studies, Dr. Sabatini’s laboratory creates new optical and chemical methods to be able to observe and manipulate the biochemical signaling associated with synapse function.

Scott Sternson [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Scott received his PhD in Chemistry from Harvard University, working with Stuart Schreiber on the synthesis and development of new probes to manipulate cellular function. After realizing a desire to work on a fundamental behavioral problem using molecular genetics integrated with neurophysiology, he did a postdoc with Jeff Friedman at Rockefeller University and also worked in Karel Svoboda’s lab (then at Cold Spring Harbor) to map molecularly-defined neural circuits regulating feeding behavior. At Janelia, Scott has been focused on understanding the circuit mechanisms underlying basic motivations such as hunger.

Ilana Witten [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Ilana Witten graduated from Princeton University with an A.B. in physics in 2002, and received her Ph.D. in neurosciences from Eric Knudsen’s lab at Stanford University in 2008. She subsequently completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Karl Deisseroth’s lab in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford. Since 2012, she has been an assistant professor in the Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology at Princeton University. Her lab studies the neural circuits for reward learning and decision-making, with a focus on the role of dynamics and feedback in these cognitive processes. Her work has been recognized with a Helen Hay Whitney fellowship, Sloan Foundation fellowship, Pew Scholars award, McKnight Scholars Award, NIH New Innovator Award, NARSAD Young Investigator award, and Daniel X. Freedman prize.

Rachel Wong [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Dr. Rachel Wong is a Professor in the Department of Biological Structure at the University of Washington. She received her PhD in Vision Neuroscience from Australian National University. Afterward she served as a Research Associate at the National Vision Research Institute of Australia. Rachel then conducted postdoctoral research as a CJ Martin Fellow at Stanford University and then an RD Wright Fellow at the Vision, Touch, and Hearing Research Centre. She served on the faculty Washington University in St. Louis before joining the faculty at the University of Washington. Rachel is with us today to tell us all about her journey through life and science.

Sarah Woolley [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Sarah Woolley, PhD, is decoding how the brain interprets sound — and what happens during development when those sounds are disrupted.

We’ve all heard the rich variety of tweeting that signals the arrival of songbirds at the backyard birdfeeder. Just like us, songbirds learn to use their voices to communicate. Birds are the only other animals whose brains share with ours the remarkable ability to learn vocal sounds. This gives researchers like Dr. Sarah Woolley the opportunity to study the social experiences and brain circuits that give human babies the ability to learn speech and language.

Claire Wyart [Workshop 1, Speaker]

Dr. Wyart is an Independent Group Leader at the Brain & Spine Institute (ICM), France, where her team focuses on the presence of multiple signaling molecules in the cerebrospinal fluid that regulate complex behavior. Her work aims to understand how the central nervous system can perceive and respond to internal state changes in both body and brain.