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Research Labs

Each neuroscience professor mentors an undergraduate research group of beginners and more advanced students during the year and the summer

Neuroscience faculty pursue research programs in biology, psychology and philosophy that are designed to engage students as research scholars. Faculty and student researchers collaborate closely to contribute to the process of discovery and advancement of knowledge. 

Below are descriptions of each faculty lab. Interested students should individually contact the faculty member.

    Professor Sugata Banerji, Mathematics and Computer Science

    I am interested in designing computer programs that can understand and interpret visual information like humans do. In particular, I'm interested in understanding whether the visual patterns used by a Machine Learning program to understand images are the same as those used by humans. The visual information can be in the form of photographs, videos, paintings, scanned documents, or images of any other kind. My most recent research focuses on AI-assisted medical diagnosis using radiological data such as x-ray, CT-scan or MRI-scan images. Working in my projects, students learn image processing with Python, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence techniques, and how to work with large image datasets. Students interested in doing research with me can contact me at banerji@lakeforest.edu.

    Professor Banerji's website

    Professor Flavia Barbosa, Biology

    I am a behavioral ecologist interested primarily in sexual selection. I study mating behavior employing insects as model species, both in the field and the laboratory. My current research is on katydids and moths, but I have also worked with flies, beetles and treehoppers.
    I am fascinated by the degrees of elaboration and variation in animal mating traits, including courtship displays, mating songs, elaborate genitalia and nuptial gifts (items offered to a mate during courtship or copulation). In most species, males compete for mates, while females have mate preferences, choosing their mates based on certain male traits. Female preferences can therefore exert strong selective pressure on males, playing a major role in the elaboration and diversification of mating traits, and potentially generating population divergence and speciation. My research focuses on the evolution of traits used to attract mates, the costs and benefits of reproductive investments, and the mechanisms and functions of mating preferences.Students interested in joining my lab can contact me at  barbosa@lakeforest.edu
    Professor Barbosa’s website

    Professor Shubhik Debburman, Biology

    “I am fascinated with how cells manipulate protein shapes. Proteins are the most diverse class of molecules in our cells and their unique functions and shapes hold the secrets of life. If proteins still misfold, they are targeted for destruction to preserve cellular health. But some misfolded proteins that such escape quality control, build up in tissues and cause tragic incurable diseases. I collaborate with undergraduates to investigate the protein folding mysteries underlying one such illness: Parkinson’s Disease, which is caused by the misfolding of protein, alpha-synuclein. My students are seeking to understand how alpha-synuclein misfolding and problems with its clearance causes cell death by using innovative experimental model systems: budding and fission yeasts. Students interested in joining my lab can contact me at debburman@lakeforest.edu.”
    DebBurman Lab website

    Professor Rebecca Delventhal, Biology

    One major goal of research in the Delventhal lab is to uncover molecular mechanisms that underlie the physiological and behavioral changes observed in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. To do this, we use a model of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to induce neurodegenerative phenotypes in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. We are interested in measuring the physiological, behavioral, and molecular changes that occur over time following an early-life TBI event. We aim to better understand the kinetics of these TBI-induced changes, and how they interact with aging processes, in the short-, mid- and long-term periods of time following an injury. Furthermore, we hypothesize that brain injury triggers changes that may occur in many common neurodegenerative diseases, and we hope to identify and study how these molecular pathways to the deterioration of the nervous system. The Delventhal lab is passionate about undergraduate research mentoring and improving the inclusion of students from historically marginalized backgrounds in STEM career pathways.  For more information, visit https://www.delventhallab.com/ or email Dr. Delventhal at rdelventhal@mx.lakeforest.edu

    Professor Paul Henne, Philosophy

    I research causal and moral reasoning, the judgments associated with these reasoning processes, and the moral and political decisions that result from them. My lab uses the tools of cognitive science to investigate philosophical issues related to morality and causation. This is a new field called experimental philosophy. Our current projects investigate the relationship between the tendency to consider alternative possible events and ordinary causal judgments that come up in moral, legal, scientific domains. We plan to use these findings to investigate how causal reasoning affects human behavior.

    Paul Henne's Website

    Professor Matthew R. Kelley, Psychology

     “I am interested in discovering the general principles that govern human memory over the short- and long-term.  Presently, I am exploring a variety of counterintuitive memory phenomena, such as collaborative inhibition (memory impairment when recalling with a partner), hypermnesia (memory improvement with the passage of time), part-set cuing (memory impairment with hints), and the generation effect for lyrical censorship (enhanced memory for unheard relative to heard information).  Students interested in joining my lab can contact me at kelley@lakeforest.edu.”

    Professor Kelley’s lab website

    Professor Karen Kirk, Biology

    My lab studies the tips of linear chromosomes, called telomeres, and the cellular consequences when something goes wrong at a telomere. Telomere length has a role in cancer, stress, and aging. Telomeres are shorter in cells with limited replication potential (most normal human cells) and potentially longer in cells that divide virtually indefinitely (germ, stem, or cancer cells). Shortened telomeres and a reduced number of cell divisions may be a normal part of the aging process but may lead to decreased lifespan in unhealthy or stressed individuals. Conversely, the ability to keep telomeres long is one of the “Hallmarks of Cancer.” I am particularly interested in the telomeres of filamentous fungi as these are among the shortest telomeres on earth. We have posed questions about the telomere-lengthening enzyme, telomerase, and how it uniquely assembles in the cells, and about the precise last nucleotide of the telomeres and its role in telomere regulation. Students interested in joining my lab can contact me at Kirk@lakeforest.edu.

    Professor Jean-Marie Maddux, Psychology

    “I am interested in basic mechanisms of associative learning, and the brain regions and circuits that subserve learned behavior. Environmental stimuli that signal salient motivational events, such as food or drugs, can acquire powerful control over behavior through Pavlovian conditioning. Broad goals of my research are to consider the role of learning processes that function in addiction, to identify candidate brain areas that allow for this learning to happen, and to investigate neurotransmitter systems that are involved in this learning and its behavioral output (performance). I am particularly interested in contrasting reward related learning for natural rewards (e.g., food or sucrose) vs. drug rewards (e.g, alcohol), and in cholinergic and dopaminergic systems. One line of my current research examines the effect of nicotine, a cholinergic agonist and the main active ingredient in tobacco, on alcohol-seeking behaviors triggered by Pavlovian alcohol cues. Another line of work explores the incentive salience of both Pavlovian alcohol cues and sucrose cues. I use a variety of methods in my research, including behavioral, pharmacological, and neuroanatomical techniques, conducted with rat subjects. Students interested in joining my lab can contact me at maddux@lakeforest.edu.

    Professor Maddux’s website

    Professor Frederick Prete, Biology

    My research focuses on the design and development of “haptic” mobility aids for blind and visually impaired children. “Haptics” refers to gentle, informative vibrations such as those produced by smart phones, video game controllers, and virtual reality devices. This research integrates information from neurobiology, psychology, electronics, and computer science. Our overall goal is to create comfortable, practical mobility aids that will help visually impaired children navigate safely. We are currently working on two projects: a denim jacket and a white cane each of which sense objects and obstacles in the near environment and provide tactile feedback to the user. Videos of students’ research can be found at http://www.hapticinsight.org

    Professor Margot Schwalbe, Biology

    I am interested in how animals gather information about their environment through their sensory systems and how this information influences an animal’s behavior.  I combine the study of neuroethology (neural basis of behavior), animal physiology (internal functions of animals), and animal behavior to investigate how the detection of certain stimuli by a sensory system contributes to the animal’s overall behavior. My current research focuses on the lateral line system in fish. Fish use their lateral line systems to detect water flows generated by biotic (predators, prey, other fish) and abiotic (rocks, waves) sources. This information is used in several behaviors including predator avoidance, feeding, schooling, and communication. I study several components of the lateral line system, including its distribution on a fish’s body, its sensitivity and filtering capabilities, and its role in swimming, feeding, and schooling behaviors.  Students interested in joining my lab can contact me at schwalbe@lakeforest.edu.

    Professor Schwalbe’s website

    Professor Naomi Wentworth, Psychology

    “I study the development of voluntary behavioral control, mostly in infants and young children.  I am particularly interested in the processes that allow us to regulate our behavior so that we can make the correct, though less automatic response, rather than the habitual, though incorrect response.  In other words, students in my lab study the origins and development of self-control.  In our current studies, we collect eye movement and brain wave data from infants and young children as they perform various visual-spatial tasks in which two response tendencies compete.  Students interested in joining my research lab can contact me at wentwort@lakeforest.edu.”

    Professor Sara Zelenberg, Mathematics and Computer Science

    I am a computational mathematician and computer scientist with specializations in computational algebraic geometry, algebraic statistics, and machine learning (especially neural network methods). My research consists of four general strands: (1) developing models to simulate human-like processes in computers, such as simulating the conjunction fallacy; (2) using machine learning to further mathematical research agendas in algebra and combinatorics, such as predicting the size for a Groebner basis; (3) applying machine learning methods to other academic disciplines, such as predicting the age of a patient based on their MRI scans; and (4) utilizing methods in mathematics and computer science to solve popular problems the public can relate to, such as determining the best first move in Wordle. If you have an interest in one of these four strands or want to propose a research idea, please contact me at szelenberg@mx.lakeforest.edu.