Student Spotlight – Phoenix Quinlan

Phoenix Quinlan

This month’s student spotlight is on Phoenix Quinlan, who is a PhD student in the Neuroscience & Behavior Graduate program. She is in Paul Katz’s lab in the Biology Department. Phoenix was recently spotlighted as an Early Career Researcher by the Journal of Experimental Biology for a paper that she published in that journal titled, State-dependent, visually guided behaviors in the nudibranch Berghia stephanieae, which shows that despite their simple eyes, nudibranchs can use visual cues for navigation. The Katz lab recently received a grant from NIH in collaboration with a lab at Harvard to study how newly born neurons are incorporated into neural circuits in the brain of this mollusc.


Student Spotlight – Hui Wei

Hui Wei is a third-year Computer Science PhD student in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences, where he works under supervision of Prof. Benjamin Marlin in the Robust and Efficient Machine Learning (REML) lab. His research interest is applying machine learning to improving human health. Currently, he is working on machine learning for mobile health and the missing value problem in the time series data. Previously, Hui was working on evaluating the clinical diagnostic accuracy of dementia subtypes, with Prof. Narges Razavian in the Department of Population Health, NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

His recent publication in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience compares the diagnosis in the clinic with autopsy results on Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body disease and their combination with respect to different Clinical Dementia Rating stages. They demonstrate the diagnosis of these dementia subtypes is inaccurate and also suffers from the significant disparity in race and sex.


Undergraduate Student Spotlight – Yesha Patel

Yesha Patel is a senior Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Economics dual degree undergraduate student as well as a member of the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On campus, Yesha has been a TA in the Biology department for the last two years and is in the Minutemen Equity Fund. Since she was a sophomore, Yesha has been working summers in Dr. Ella Zeldich’s lab at Boston University’s School of Medicine. She is an author on a paper that was recently published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, titled “Extracellular Vesicle Treatment Alleviates Neurodevelopmental and Neurodegenerative Pathology in Cortical Spheroid Model of Down Syndrome

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2022 Neuroscience and Behavior graduate student awards

Award winners, Madison Riffe, Joe Dwyer, and Wayne Barnaby

Distinguished Student AwardWayne Barnaby

Meg Sratton, Wayne Barnaby, Heather Richardson

For over 25 years, this distinguished award has paid tribute to a more advanced doctoral student in the NSB PhD program, honoring academic performance, research performance, and contributions that enhance the quality of the NSB program.
Wayne continually sets a new bar for quality and rigor for his science. Wayne’s latest publication in Genetics titled “The GABAA α subunit control of hyperactive behavior in developing zebrafish.” This paper describes a set of eloquent studies that used a multiplex CRISPR-Cas9 somatic mutation approach to screen for hyperactivity phenotypes linked to GABAergic alpha subunit mutations. Wayne discovered that a3 and a5 subunits regulate distinct aspects of zebrafish swimming behavior, which are important steps to identify circuit mechanisms of how GABA controls locomotion.

Genetics issue with Wayne’s work on the cover.

The value of this work and Wayne’s keen talent in putting together beautiful scientific illustrations was recognized when it was chosen for the cover of an issue of Genetics as well!

During his years as NSB president, Wayne made focusing on awareness and education of diversity and inclusion within NSB and the other Interdepartmental Graduate Programs one of his top priorities. Notably, his leadership and impact go well beyond NSB, as was evident with his role in spearheading and promoting the widely endorsed petition to our Chancellor to address inequality and racism in our university and community. As one of his nominators said so perfectly about Wayne, “he models for all of us a patient yet persistent approach that brings people into this awareness, into conversations, and into actions.” Finally, on top of all these achievements, Wayne was also praised for his stellar teaching skills in the classroom and mentoring of undergraduate students in the Downes lab.

Early Career AwardMadison Riffe

Madison Riffe (center)

This award is designated for a 1st or 2nd year student in the NSB PhD program showing excellence in academics, research, and/or outreach.
Madison’s service to the University has been invaluable, through her roles on various high-level committees at the College and Departmental level, as well as in the NSB program. According to one nominator, “Madison simply does it all, and she does it well!”. She got As in all of her classes in her 1st two years, she was nominated for a distinguished teaching award for her work as a TA, and has mentored or is actively mentoring 5 undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students in the Downes lab. Her research productivity is excellent, and she has a coauthored paper in press with another on the way out the door.

Golden Neuron AwardJoe Dwyer

Joe Dwyer (center)

The Golden Neuron Award celebrates an exciting new finding from any PhD or MA student in the NSB program. The finding must have been published or presented at a conference within the last year.
Joe used viral circuit mapping and whole brain imaging and found over 50 brain regions that synapse onto aromatase neurons in the medial amygdala. The breadth of these connections is exciting and suggests these pathways are tying social behavior states like mating to states relating to stress, parenting, social recognition, and aggression. The paper associated with these findings was published in eNeuro in 2022, titled “Brain-Wide Synaptic Inputs to Aromatase-Expressing Neurons in the Medial Amygdala Suggest Complex Circuitry for Modulating Social Behavior.”


Brennan Falcy awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Brennan Falcy, an NSB graduate student in Ilia Karatsoreos’s lab, was awarded a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF). The award aims to fund research that demonstrates rigorous intellectual merit as well as the potential for broader impacts for our society.

Brennan graduated with a B.S. in Neuroscience from UCLA in 2018. He came to UMass to work with Ilia Karatsoreos, where he could apply his neuroscience background to ask questions related to circadian biology and cellular metabolism. Brennan’s proposed research aims to study the dynamic interactions of astrocytes and neurons over the circadian period. Neurons exhibit 24-hour rhythmic fluctuations in excitability. Brennan will test the hypothesis that this phenomenon originates from rhythmic astrocytic input of redox-buffering metabolites. He will perform electrophysiology on cultured neurons and record the response of neurons to oxidative challenges in the presence and absence of astrocytes at different times of day. Brain activity – from the cellular level to the network level – is rhythmic across the 24-hour period. Uncovering how neuronal function is influenced, for example by astrocytes, is critical to understanding emergent functions such as cognition. Further, discovering how brain cell function changes over the circadian period has implications for time-of-day phenomena, such as sleep or susceptibility to injury. 

As a former undergraduate transfer student himself, he works to help demystify grad school to undergraduate transfer students. In his free time he enjoys running and exploring the outdoors of New England. On behalf of IONs and NSB, congratulations, Brennan!


Student Spotlight – Kyle Kainec

Kyle Kainec with his family

Kyle Kainec is a 5th year NSB student in the Somneuro Lab led by Dr. Rebecca Spencer. His research interests broadly include using advanced neuroimaging tools and analysis techniques to investigate the intersection of sleep and memory consolidation. In 2021, Kyle co-authored 4 publications, received a Graduate School Dissertation Research Grant, and nearly submitted the first manuscript of his dissertation work investigating sleep-dependent associated memory consolidation in young adults. Kyle’s first, first author publication, titled “Age-related changes in sleep-dependent novel word consolidation”, was recently published in Acta Psychologica and contributes growing evidence that encoding strength is crucially important to understand the expression of sleep-dependent benefits in older adults. In the coming year, he looks forward to completing his dissertation work, expanding his industry involvement, and preparing for what is next. On behalf of the NSB community, congratulations to Kyle!

Publication: Kainec, K. A., Paracha, A. W., Ali, S., Bussa, R., Mantua, J., & Spencer, R. (2022). Age-related changes in sleep-dependent novel word consolidation. Acta psychologica, 222, 103478.