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!


Consciousness revealed

04/01/2022. UMass neuroscientists announced today that they had discovered the source of human consciousness. Lead researcher, Arby Jenkins said, “It’s really surprising because it has been staring us in the face all these years and somehow nobody every noticed.”

Looking for the seat of consciousness.

It turned out people were looking in all the wrong places. “Years ago, Crick had proposed that the habenula was the seat of consciousness, but he was basically too deep.”, said Jenkins, who is known for superficiality.

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Director’s Channel – March 2022

Paul Katz
IONs Director, Paul Katz

I am very excited to announce that after a two year hiatus we will once again host the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference. This year, the talks will be focused on the interface between Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence. There will be two outside speakers and five UMass faculty speakers. In addition, as before, we will have an evening poster session. UMass has a historical strength in reinforcement learning. This conference will be a chance for Neuroscientists, Computer Scientists, and Engineers to learn from each other. The conference also dovetails with the IONs Inspiration Awards for Neuroscience & Technology, which is an opportunity for UMass graduate students and postdocs to receive funding for research proposals that use new technology or employ existing methodologies in new ways to address problems in neuroscience or problems inspired by neuroscience. The deadline for application is March 25th.


Student Spotlight – Parag Juvale

This month’s student spotlight is on Parag Juvale, an MCB student in Dr. Sarah Pallas’s lab. Parag recently received 2 awards to support his research: The Sigma Xi Grants in Aid of Research (GIAR) and The UMass Amherst Graduate School’s Pre-Dissertation Research Grant. His research interests broadly include using biochemistry and molecular biology techniques to investigate the cellular signaling pathways underlying activity-dependent brain plasticity, and in his current work, these grants will help him investigate the synaptic factors that lead to visual plasticity during adulthood.

After completing his B.Sc. in Microbiology in Pune, India, Parag earned a M.Sc. in Cancer Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Leicester, where he completed his M.Sc. thesis at the Medical Research Council (MRC)’s Toxicology Unit, Leicester, U.K. Parag worked for a few years in India before moving to Georgia State University for his Ph.D. and later transferring to UMass Amherst in 2019 with Dr. Pallas. In the coming year, he looks forward to completing his dissertation research and preparing for what is next. Parag aims to work in academia long-term where he will continue researching the cellular mechanisms underlying activity-dependent plasticity.

On behalf of the IONs community, congratulation to Parag!


Dr. Agnes Lacreuse named 2022 Public Engagement Faculty Fellow

Dr. Lacreuse is a professor in the Psychological and Brain Sciences graduate program and head of the Hormones and Cognition Lab. She studies age-related cognitive decline in nonhuman primates to improve understanding of human aging and Alzheimer’s disease. As a Public Engagement Project (PEP) Fellow, she plans to develop strategies to inform the public and policymakers about the critical importance of animal research for medical advances. Dr. Lacreuse also plans to advocate for more research transparency to help the public understand the facts about humane and ethical animal research.

The UMass Amherst Public Engagement Project is a collaboration between the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) and the Center for Research on Families (CRF). The PEP Faculty Fellowship has been made possible by funding from the UMass College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, College of Natural Sciences, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Office of the Provost, University Relations, as well as the collaborating centers and institutes. There were eight faculty members named as Fellows in the 8th cohort this year. Fellows will receive a stipend and training in communicating about research outside of an academic setting. This project encourages communication and collaboration between researchers, journalists, lawmakers in Congress and the State House and practitioners not involved in academia.


New neuroscience journal club focused on movement and neurodegenerative disorders

When: Friday, March 18, 2022 (ongoing one Friday per month)
Where: Zoom
Contact: Douglas Martini (

The UMass Intercampus Movement and Neurodegenerative Disorders Interest Group is an intercampus collaboration aimed at creating a forum for research talk on movement and neurodegenerative disorders. Current attendees include folks from UMass Med, Lowell, and Amherst. We encourage participation (including presenting your work) from a wide range of disciplines, support students/trainees (presentation practice) and advance collaborations. We currently meet (Zoom) once a month on Fridays from 2-3pm. The next scheduled meeting is for March 18th. If you are interested in participating in the Interest Group or have follow-up questions, please contact Douglas Martini (


UMass Neurosciences Publications – February 2022

Gerry Downes

This month’s featured researcher, Dr. Gerald Downes, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. Gerry is also the Director of the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence and Success (SPINES) at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. His lab uses zebrafish to study the neurogenetics underlying locomotor behavior and epilepsy. This month a paper from his lab appeared in the journal Genetics in which they used CRISPR-Cas9 to mutate GABA-A receptor subunit genes to see their effects on swimming behavior. The first author on the study, was NSB student Wayne Barnaby.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared online in February. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Director’s Channel – February 2022

Paul Katz

Regardless of what some groundhog might have seen today, I’m convinced that spring is around the corner. There is so much activity in the Neurosciences that I can feel the community coming back alive after the isolation of the pandemic. This month, Guoping Feng, the Director of the McGovern Institute at MIT will deliver the first in-person Distinguished Neuroscience Lecture in almost two years. Plans are underway to once again hold a UMass Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Conference. This year, the theme will be Neuroscience and AI, which is emerging as an important intersectional field. I am really pleased to announce the Inspiration Awards, which is an opportunity for graduate students and postdocs to propose research that reaches across neuroscience, engineering, and computer science. UMass has tremendous untapped potential. It is our premise that the trainees can help lead the way to future collaborations. Yes, spring is in the air even if there is snow on the ground.


UMass Neurosciences Publications – January 2022

Jennifer Rauch

This month’s featured researcher is Jennifer Rauch. Jennifer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. Her primary research centers on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to diseases associated with protein misfolding and aggregation, particularly neurodegenerative tau protein. Her lab examines the spread of tau and inflammatory mechanisms in microglia and astrocytes. In addition, she has a recent publication in JAMA comparing screening methods for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome resulting from Coronavirus.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared online in January. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Inspiration Awards for Neuroscience and Technology

The Initiative on Neurosciences is pleased to announce Inspiration Awards for Neuroscience & Technology to support UMass graduate students and postdoctoral researchers proposing research at the interface of neuroscience and either engineering or computer sciences.

Funding amount: Up to $10,000 for single trainee awards and up to $15,000 for collaborative awards involving two or more trainees.
Funding is available for up to 8 awards.

The proposal must be for research that incorporates new methodologies or employs existing methodologies in new ways to address problems in neuroscience or problems inspired by neuroscience. This includes, but is not limited to, novel ways of collecting, analyzing, or modeling data.

Deadline for application, March 25, 2022

Proposals will be judged on the following criteria:
1) Creativity
2) Feasibility
3) Integration of neuroscience with engineering or computer sciences.

Considerations will be made to allocate awards broadly to across neuroscience, engineering, and computer science as well as demographically to broaden participation of women and under-represented groups. Demographic information will be collected separately and not available to the review panel.

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