Research Interests

We are interested in understanding the neural basis of behavior: in particular, how humans and other animals recognize patterns and form specific memories. In our laboratory, we have focused our attention on the detection and recognition of pheromones--compounds which modulate reproductive and aggressive behaviors--by the neurons of the vomeronasal system. In this system, recognition and learning appear to be performed with relatively simple neural circuitry; and the organism of choice--the mouse--is amenable to study by physiological, behavioral, and molecular techniques. We study this system over a wide range of scales, from the first molecular steps of pheromone detection up to behavioral tests which probe the neural computations used to recognize blends of compounds.

A specialty of the lab is recording and analyzing the simultaneous activity of large populations of neurons. In particular, we develop new optical technologies for imaging three-dimensional volumes at high speed. Our approach, called Objective-Coupled Planar Illumination (OCPI) microscopy, uses a thin (~5 microns) sheet of light positioned in the focal plane of the objective. This permits rapid (theoretically, ~10 microseconds/frame) and high signal-to-noise imaging. Because the light sheet is coupled to the objective, the objective may be scanned to perform three-dimensional imaging at high speeds. A further advantage is that photodamage is greatly reduced because illumination is restricted to the focal plane. The laboratory is investing in extensions of this technique that range from correcting aberrations to searching for new contrast modalities.