Neuroscience Doctoral Program Students

NDP group working on a corn farm
NDP students and Cheryl Stucky, PhD, spend a day volunteering at the Hunger Task Force in Franklin, WI. Harvesting corn for 5 hours was hard work but lots of fun and very rewarding!

"I like MCW because of the collaborative platform for research, the atmosphere and the interdisciplinary research environment where the knowledge can be transferred to a clinical application."

Seung-Yi Lee
2nd year NDP student

"Seeking to further understand the underlying mechanisms of the visual system and its interaction with the brain truly excites me about neuroscience."

Jonathon Young
3rd year NDP student

"Courses in computer science and neuroscience led me to join a lab that marries neurobiology and computer science. This made the NDP and Joe Carroll’s lab at MCW an easy choice."

Alexander Salmon
4th year NDP student

Thiago N. Arzua

Thesis Lab: Xiaowen Bai, MD, PhD, Department of Anesthesiology

Research Interests: Neuroscience involves the possibility to further develop almost every field of research. When there is a need to push the boundaries of neuroscience, technology, methodologies, society and arguably even philosophy are all pushed with it. It is incredibly exciting to be able to tackle questions that can create such extensive themes.

Undergraduate Education: University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, Chemistry with a minor in French

Eric Clark

Thesis Lab: Brian Link, PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy

Research Interests: Current research projects include studying mutations in genes that encode proteins involved in mitochondria trafficking and dynamics, as well as extracellular matrix proteins. The overall goal is to understand how these factors contribute to Neurodegenerative Disease.

Undergraduate Education: Albion College, Albion, Michigan, Major: biology/psychology, neuroscience concentration

Matthew Dillard

Thesis Lab: Matt Hodges, PhD, Department of Physiology

Research Interests: I believe that the most exciting part of Neuroscience is the breadth of the field. There are a wide variety of problems to be addressed in the field which provides ample opportunity for the advancement of knowledge in the field and the application of new discoveries for the betterment of humanity. I also find the interdisciplinary nature of Neuroscience to be exciting. One problem in the field can be addressed in numerous different ways by individuals with widely differing backgrounds. The synthesis of knowledge and methodologies from various disciplines makes Neuroscience research exciting to me.

Undergraduate Education: Eureka College, Eureka, Ill, Neuroscience

Ethan Duwell

Thesis Lab: Edgar A. DeYoe, PhD, Biophysics

Research Interests: My research interests include visual attention, conscious awareness, and conscious experience. I am currently pursuing these interests in the DeYoe lab, where we study visual attention both behaviorally and neurophysiologically via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Undergraduate Education: St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN), BA, Chemistry and Philosophy

Heather Heitkotter

1st year student

Research Interests: My general focus is neuroscience; I enjoy investigating the underlying mechanisms of behavior and neurological function. I have a particular interest in neurological development and related disorders, which I hope to explore via cellular activities and phenotypic expression.

Undergraduate Education: Lake Forest College; Neuroscience and Biology​

Ryan Hillmer

Thesis Lab: Brian Link, PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology & Anatomy

Research Interests: An interest in neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative disease led me to join a lab investigating the molecular mechanisms governing embryonic development. I am currently investigating the interactions between Notch and Hippo signaling early in development using the zebrafish model system. These interactions are probed in the zebrafish eye by measuring signaling activity of the Notch and Hippo pathways in fish with altered levels of Hippo and Notch signaling, respectively.

Undergraduate Education: Carroll University, BS

Ben O'Brien Hokenson

1st year student

Research Interests: My research interests focus around neurodegenerative disease because of the complexity found in these conditions and the lack of suitable treatments currently. I am interested in pursuing pharmacological treatments for these diseases as I progress with my studies. 

Undergraduate Education: University of Wisconsin Madison, Madison, WI, Neurobiology

Seung-Yi Lee

Thesis Lab: Matt Budde, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery

Research Interests: I studied specific ion effects on hydrophobic hydration of model polymers that are reminiscent to proteins at Penn State. One of the applications of my studies was for understanding neurodegenerative diseases which led me to neuroscience.

Undergraduate Education:  Catholic University of Korea, Seoul, South Korea; Chemistry, English Literature/ Education

Graduate Education: Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA; Bioanalytical Chemistry

Xiaojie Liu

Thesis Lab: Qing-Song Liu, PhD, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Research Interests: My research focuses on understanding the mechanism of cocaine addiction. Addiction involves the changes of the dopamine reward system, which consists of dopamine projections from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to different brain regions. My interest is in identifying the drug-induced changes in the reward circuit, and then investigating whether enhancing and blocking the identified change affects drug-induced addictive behaviors.

Undergraduate Education: Shanxi Medical University, Taiyuan, China; Neurophysiology

Sean McGarry

Thesis Lab: Peter LaViolette, PhD, Biophysics

Research Interests: My research interests involve structural imaging in brain cancer.

Undergraduate Education: Milwaukee School of Engineering (Milwaukee, WI), BS, Biomedical Engineering

Francie Moehring

Thesis Lab: Cheryl Stucky, PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology & Anatomy

Research Interests: My research focuses on the idea that while sensory neurons have long been known to mediate touch and pain transduction, they are highly likely not alone and epidermal keratinocytes are likely the initial first responders to tactile stimuli. Therefore I am trying to dissect the cellular mechanism by which keratinocytes communicate with sensory nerve terminals.

Undergraduate Education: University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, BS, Biology, Chemistry,

Natalie N. Nawarawong

Thesis Lab: Christopher Olsen, PhD, Pharmacology and Toxicology

Research Interests: My research will focus on expanding our understanding of the neural populations and pathways that underlie both drug and non-drug rewards. By using transgenic mouse models, I will be able to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms of addiction.

Undergraduate Education: Vassar College

Savannah Neu

1st year student

Research Interests: Great potential has been shown in recent years for a connection between inflammation in the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the microbiome of the human gut.  My current research interest involves studying how a person's environment (ie. diet, infection) can modulate the inflammatory response of autoimmune neurodegenerative diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Undergraduate Education: Milwaukee School of Engineering, Major: BioMolecular Engineering; Minors: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry

Ashley Reynolds

Thesis Lab: Cheryl Stucky, PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology & Anatomy

Research Interests: The inflammasome is responsible for production of the pain-inducing cytokine IL-1β. Sensory neurons release IL-1β and directly respond to IL-1β because sensory neurons express its receptor IL-1R1. Therefore, it is likely that the inflammasome is responsible for the release of IL-1β from sensory neurons and involved in pain. Thus, I am studying the role of the sensory neuron inflammasome in postoperative pain.

Undergraduate Education: Marquette University, BS, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Jose Rosas

1st year student

Research Interests:

Undergraduate Education:

Benjamin Sajdak

Thesis Lab: Joseph Carroll, PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy

Research Interests: I am using non-invasive retinal imaging techniques like optical coherence tomography and adaptive optics scanning light ophthalmoscopy to study retinal disease. I work with several species, but most often the ground squirrel. I love studying this model because it is a cone dominant rodent, and undergoes incredible metabolic changes with annual hibernation.

Undergraduate Education: University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI; Major: Biology, Minor: Neuroscience.

Alex Salmon

Thesis Lab: Joseph Carroll, PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy

Research Interests: Software, hardware, and biological solutions to improve adaptive optics scanning light ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO) and optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging in animals. Developing animal models of retinal disease. Developing contrast agents for OCT.

Undergraduate Education: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, Neurobiology

Stephanie Santarriaga

Thesis Lab: Matt Scaglione, PhD, Department of Biochemistry

Research Interests: My research project is to understand mechanisms by which Dictyostelium resists protein aggregation. A hallmark of aging and age-related diseases is the loss of proteostasis, leading to an increase in protein aggregation. The nine polyglutamine diseases are caused by the expansion of CAG trinucleotide repeat within the coding region of specific genes. CAG codes for the amino acid glutamine, resulting in the translation of a polyglutamine-expanded, aggregation-prone protein. We identified Dictyostelium discoideum as a model organism that normally encodes for long polyglutamine tracts and is highly resistant to polyglutamine aggregation.

Undergraduate Education: University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, and Molecular Biology

Rebecca Slick

1st year student

Research Interests: I’ve always been excited about neuroscience because it is utilized in a wide variety of fields. I’m interested in doing research that investigates behavior as well as neurological function in a translational setting.

Undergraduate Education: University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh

Jiaqing Tong

Thesis Lab: Jeffery R. Binder, MD, Department of Neurology

Research Interests: Exploring how the neurons code the information when people are involved in certain activities interests me.

Undergraduate Education: Shanxi Medical University, Taiyuan, Shanxi, Clinical Lab Technician

Graduate Education: Shanxi Medical University, Taiyuan, Shanxi, Physiology

Jonathon B. Young

Thesis Lab: Iris Kassem, MD, PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology & Anatomy

Research Interests: Inflammation and fibrosis following lensectomy in a juvenile rabbit model – The goal of this project is to ultimately improve the outcomes of cataract surgery performed in infants.

Undergraduate Education: Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI; Biomedical Science

Hanmeng Zhang

Thesis Lab: Daniel Lipinski, MSc, DPhil, Ocular Gene Therapy Lab

Research Interests:  The nervous system plays a leading role in the regulation of body functions. It is related to multiple disciplines and they are inseparable. I hope that after the collection of broad neuroscience knowledge I will connect them with sports. I believe that “exercise is medicine” and hope that we will find more possibilities which exercises will bring to us.

Undergraduate Education: Beijing Sport University, Beijing, China; Human Sport Science

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