As long as I remember, I have enjoyed observing animals and wondering what drives their different behaviors. The realization that detailed observations and quantitative analysis can reveal surprising solutions animals find to solve the problems that they encounter is what eventually drew me into animal behavior research. Today I work as a postdoctoral associate in Vivek Jayaraman's lab at HHMI Janelia Research Campus studying neural mechanisms underlying navigation.
Currently I'm working on three different projects. First, I’m combining a virtual reality system that I developed during my PhD (see below) with two-photon calcium imaging to investigate the fly’s head direction system during navigation in dynamic and cluttered two-dimensional visual environments. In a second navigation project, I am collaborating with Carlos Ribeiro’s lab (Champalimaud) and Ann Hermundstad (Janelia), to investigate the behavioral strategies and neural mechanisms underlying foraging in flies. In a third, also highly collaborative project, I’ve been analyzing the central complex connectivity using the recently published fruit fly connectome.
An interest in infectious diseases and the physiology of the human body motivated me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biomedicine, but toward the end of my undergraduate degree while working in Bertram Gerber’s group (University of Würzburg, Germany), I discovered that greatly enjoyed behavioral experiments. This first longer research experience also taught me the crucial importance of computational analysis and programming. To strengthen my quantitative background, I therefore pursued a masters in computational biology. I learned to consider the computational complexity of a behavior in addition to its ethological relevance.
During my PhD I developed a virtual reality system for head-fixed walking flies, which expands the state-of-the-art methods for studying visually-guided navigation by permitting flies to navigate highly controlled yet complex, 2D virtual environments. Furthermore, I designed these new behavioral paradigms to be compatible with two-photon calcium imaging, a method that permits recording of neural activity in a behaving animal, and I am currently working on combining the fly virtual reality with an imaging rig.
In my free time, I love to sew. Sewing serves as a relaxing and grounding compensatory activity to research: It’s relatively fast-paced, you can create objects that are useful in everyday life and get to be creative while playing with design and fabrics.