Floating Brains

Please find our guests for this series by alphabetic order by surname


Awais Aftab

Dr Awais Aftab is a practising psychiatrist in the US and Clinical Assistant Professor at CWRU, Department of Psychiatry, and Attending Psychiatrist at Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare. His research studies a range of psychiatric conditions from depression, anxiety and bipolar but he also has a strong passion for educating people on what modern psychiatric care looks like and what can be done to understand and improve the care we provide.


Jorge Almedia

Lab website: proactionlab.fpce.uc.pt

My research addresses the neural mechanisms that subserve object processing. In particular, my work focuses on studying how we interact with and recognize manipulable objects. I also have extensive work on aspects of neural processing and network activity, and specifically on how local processing in a given region is influenced by distally processed information. Finally, I am also interested in topics of neuroplasticity and have contributed to the current understanding of cross-modal plasticity in the congenitally deaf. To address these issues, I use a multimodal approach that spans fMRI, Neuromodulation, Neuropsychological and behavioural data.


Nicole Barbaro

Dr. Nicole Barbaro holds a Ph.D. in psychology with a specialization in evolution and human development from Oakland University. She currently works as a Research Scientist for WGU Labs, an education innovation hub striving to advance ingenuity in the higher education space, and serves as the Communications Officer for HBES. Nicole’s expertise centers on human evolution, behavior genetics, and human development with an applied focus on how evolutionary social science can inform teaching and learning strategies in higher education.

Website: www.nicolebarbaro.com

Twitter: @NicoleBarbaro


Per Borghammer

Prof. Per Borghammer is a Professor of Nuclear Medicine and Neuroscience at the Aaarhus University Hospital in Denmark. Per uses complex nuclear medicine to safely study the progression of neurological diseases and how the metabolism of our brains and bodies change while people are suffering from conditions like Parkinson’s. While it may sound counter-intuitive to study a sick patient with a radioactive material Per’s work uses minuscule amounts of the isotype which have no effect on the patient’s health but let scientists study how different chemicals are being used by the body in different locations. In his episode, we talk about how dopamine degeneration can begin in the neurons used by the intestines to coordinate digestion and through the connections between the intestines and the brain the loss of dopamine-producing cells continues


Robert “nufo” Carillo

Dr. Robert “nufo” Carrillo is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago and a member of the Neuroscience Institute. Prior to starting his independent group, he completed a postdoc at Caltech in Dr. Kai Zinn’s lab and graduate work at Yale University under the mentorship of Dr. Haig Keshishian. The Carrillo lab has a broad interest in understanding the assembly and function of neural circuits. During circuit development, neurons must identify appropriate partners to form connections, called synapses, to enable communication and overall circuit functions that underlie everyday behaviours from forming new memories to muscles movements.

To begin to understand the wiring specificity between synaptic partners, Dr. Carrillo’s group leverages the hard-wired Drosophila motor circuit which encounters similar assembly challenges as more complex neural circuits but with many fewer cells. Utilizing genetic, biochemical, imaging, and functional approaches, they discovered two cell surface protein subfamilies that instruct precision when choosing a synaptic target. By expressing a unique combination of these proteins on their surface, neurons can identify a synaptic partner among an expansive sea of incorrect partners. Understanding these processes will shed light not only on how our nervous system normally develops but also on how perturbations in connectivity can culminate in deleterious neurological diseases.

My research looks specifically at transitions between different brain states, for example, the transition between wake and sleep. Here the unpredictable onset of epileptic seizures is a primary example. I consider the brain as a network of interconnected regions each containing millions of neurons. When one brain region transitions into a seizure it may induce a seizure in a second brain region, which in turn induces a seizure in a third region and so on. This process can be thought of as a cascading domino effect. The timings and order of the domino effect are emergent properties of underlying brain network that can give insight into how seizures start and spread. I use mathematical tools designed for systems that change with time, to build and analyse network models. I use patients’ brain recordings to identify the network connectivity and individual region properties. In this way, I aim to identify the underlying drivers of seizures and potential indicators that can be used in clinical settings to aid diagnosis and tailor treatment plans.

Jen Creaser

Jen Creaser

How brain activity emerges from the connections between brain regions is a fundamental and unanswered question in neuroscience. Despite the large quantities of brain imaging data collected, both clinical and experimental, the mechanisms responsible for the variety of observed behaviours remain elusive. The interdisciplinary field of mathematical neuroscience applies sophisticated tools from mathematics to neural activity. Placing brain activity in a mathematical context enables new understanding and insights to be gained into this intellectual void.


My research looks specifically at transitions between different brain states, for example the transition between wake and sleep. Here the unpredictable onset of epileptic seizures is a primary example. I consider the brain as a network of interconnected regions each containing millions of neurons. When one brain region transitions into a seizure it may induce a seizure in a second brain region, which in turn induces a seizure in a third region and so on. This process can be thought of as a cascading domino effect. The timings and order of the domino effect are emergent properties of underlying brain network that can give insight into how seizures start and spread. I use mathematical tools designed for systems that change with time, to build and analyse network models. I use patients’ brain recordings to identify the network connectivity and individual region properties. In this way, I aim to identify the underlying drivers of seizures and potential indicators that can be used in clinical settings to aid diagnosis and tailor treatment plans.

Paul Eastwick

Paul Eastwick

Paul Eastwick’s research investigates how people initiate romantic relationships and the psychological mechanisms that help romantic partners to remain committed and attached. One of his research programs examines how the qualities that people say are critically important to them in a romantic partner—their ideal partner preferences—direct romantic partner selection and retention. He is also interested in exploring how close relationships research can inform evolutionary psychological approaches (and vice versa), especially with respect to the way that relationships grow and develop over time (read about the ReCAST model here and the data supporting it here). Additionally, his work draws from anthropological data on the time course of human evolution to make novel psychological predictions.

michael j frank

Michael J Frank

Our research combines multiple levels of computational modelling and experimental work to understand the neural mechanisms underlying reinforcement learning, decision making and cognitive control. We develop neural circuit and algorithmic models that simulate systems-level interactions between multiple brain areas (primarily prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia and their modulation by dopamine). We test theoretical predictions of the models using various neuropsychological, pharmacological, genetic, and imaging (primarily EEG) techniques.


Zachary Freyberg

Zachary Freyberg, M.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Departments of Psychiatry and Cell Biology. Freyberg is a physician-scientist and psychiatrist who studies human disorders of dopaminergic neurotransmission including addiction, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. In his work, he uses genetic, pharmacological and combined light and electron microscopy approaches to dissect the molecular mechanisms of presynaptic dopaminergic neurotransmission.

Zachary received his Ph.D. and M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, New York. He moved to Pittsburgh to start his research lab in the Fall of 2016.


Raul Andreo Gali

Raul Andero Galí holds a PhD in Neuroscience from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and completed his postdoctoral work at Emory University (Atlanta, GA). He joined McLean Hospital – Harvard Medical School, as an Instructor in Psychiatry (Faculty).

On 2016, he started his laboratory at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona as Ramón y Cajal Fellow and Group Leader. Since 2021 he is continuing his work at UAB as ICREA Research Professor. His lab studies how stress changes memory networks in the brain in both rodents and humans. See more information at www.anderolab.com

michael j frank

Rafiq Huda

Our decisions are powerfully shaped by internal states (such as hunger or thirst) and external representations driven by sensory inputs. A fundamental question is how these sources of information interact to produce flexible decision-making strategies that are adaptive and achieve desired outcomes. Flexible decision-making underlies complex cognitive functions like problem-solving and reasoning and goes awry in neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety, and addiction. The vastly interconnected cortical and subcortical systems of the brain are crucial neural substrates for the adaptive control of behaviour. Yet, the organizing principles for how interactions within and between these systems support flexible decision-making behaviours have remained elusive.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) and thalamic areas have access to both internal and external representations via converging inputs from multiple brain areas. These areas in turn provide diverging outputs, allowing them to rapidly reconfigure brain-wide processes to guide decision-making. Our overarching hypothesis is that specific PFC and thalamic neuronal populations facilitate flexible decision-making by recruiting specialized ensembles of neurons in their target structures. A significant challenge in testing this hypothesis has been the lack of tools for selectively probing the activity of defined neuronal populations. However, recent advancements in optical techniques for recording and manipulating neuronal activity with high spatiotemporal resolution, combined with methods for targeting neuronal populations based on their genetic and/or anatomical identity, finally make this a tractable problem to solve.


Alan Jern

Dr. Alan Jern teaches psychology, including new courses in social and computational psychology. He is a cognitive scientist and uses computational models and behavioural experiments to study how people think and reason. Dr. Jern’s research interests include how people think about other people, how people learn and use concepts, and how people revise their beliefs after seeing new evidence. Check out his personal web page.

Julia Kam

Julia Kam

My research program centres on understanding the neurophysiological and functional basis of internal attention. This is a core human experience that occupies up to half of our awake time. Commonly known as mind wandering, it involves attending internally to cognitive processes such as autobiographical memory recall, decision making and future planning.

My lab uses a unique combination of cognitive neuroscience approaches to study internal attention, including behaviour, pupillometry, scalp and intracranial EEG. We investigate internal attention in healthy individuals, clinical populations, neuropsychological patients with structural brain damage and neurosurgical patients with medically refractory epilepsy who are evaluated for surgical treatment to control their seizures.

Currently, we are interested in elucidating the causal relevance of brain regions in internal attention as well as the spatiotemporal dynamics supporting internal attention. Having previously established the core scalp EEG signatures of internal attention in healthy and clinical populations, my lab now uses these EEG signatures and machine learning models to predict periods of internal attention. Finally, we are also interested in studying internal attention in naturalistic settings, and understanding the relationship between internal attention and other important aspects of our daily life, including creativity and task performance.


Niko Kriegeskorte

Nikolaus Kriegeskorte is a computational neuroscientist who studies how our brains enable us to see and understand the world around us. He received his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Maastricht University, held postdoctoral positions at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research at the University of Minnesota and the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, and was a Programme Leader at the U.K. Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge. Kriegeskorte is a Professor at Columbia University, affiliated with the Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience. He is a Principal Investigator and Director of Cognitive Imaging at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University. Kriegeskorte is a co-founder of the conference “Cognitive Computational Neuroscience”, which had its inaugural meeting in September 2017 at Columbia University.


Michael Laakasuo

Dr Michael Laakasuo is an adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki in the Department of Digital Humanities. He is a psychologist and social scientist studying how we can use psychological technologies like personality questionnaires and hypothetical stories called vignettes to better understand how people both interact with the technology we have now and the technology of the future like general intelligence and specific intelligence AI.

Andy Shih

Andy Shih

Dr. Shih is an Associate Professor at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington. His laboratory uses an imaging approach called in vivo two-photon microscopy to study the brain microvasculature at exquisite resolution in living mice. Using this approach, his team has made new discoveries on how blood is distributed throughout the healthy brain, and how impaired blood flow can arise during various neurological diseases, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. A current focus of his lab’s research is on regulation of blood flow through brain capillary networks, which comprise nearly 400 miles of total length per adult human brain. These studies have highlighted specialized cells (pericytes) that adhere to capillaries walls and provide slow control of blood through the network. Pericytes are lost at an accelerated rate in aging and other neurological diseases. The lab aims to understand the regulatory functions of pericytes, such that they can be preserved or restored in the face of vascular disease. Dr. Shih’s work has been funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health, Dana Foundation, American Heart Association, Alzheimer’s Association, New Vision Award, and the Albert White Matter Research Institute.

Lab website is: www.theshihlab.com


Michiel Spape

Born in the Netherlands, I was trained (PhD) in Psychology at the University of Leiden, specialising in cognitive control and perception/action integration. After several postdoctoral positions (in Nottingham, UK and Helsinki, Finland) with topics as varied as motor control, haptics, social/affective neuroscience, and EEG. Following a brief stint as a lecturer in Psychology (Liverpool, UK), I am now Docent in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Helsinki (Finland). My current work still involves most of these topics, and I get most inspired if I get to mix them up as much as possible, as with questions such as ‘what happens in the brain if you touch someone you don’t like?’ (haptics, social neuroscience) or ‘can a brain-computer interface detect personal attraction (control, perception, affective neuroscience)’.


Bethany Teachman

Bethany Teachman is a Professor, and the Director of Clinical Training and the Co-Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Virginia in the Department of Psychology. Her lab investigates biased thinking that contributes to the development and maintenance of psychopathology, especially anxiety disorders. She received her PhD from Yale University and her BA from the University of British Columbia. She has had continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations and has more than 200 publications, including the books Introduction to clinical psychology: Bridging science and practice and Treatment planning in psychotherapy: Taking the guesswork out of clinical care. Dr. Teachman is Director of the public web sites MindTrails (https://mindtrails.virginia.edu/), a web-based research infrastructure that has offered free digital interventions to reduce anxious thinking to thousands of visitors around the world, and Project Implicit Health (www.projectimplicithealth.com), an educational website that allows visitors to assess their implicit associations tied to mental and physical health topics.

Dr. Teachman has been awarded an American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Early Career Award, multiple national mentoring awards, and she is a Fellow of multiple associations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Currently, Dr. Teachman is Chair of the Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science and she received a 2019 Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association.


Marc van Wanrooij

Marc van Wanrooij is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Biophysics, Donders Institute, Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. His research focuses on the question of how information from our visual, auditory and vestibular senses is processed optimally by our brains. It specifically relates to how we deal with multiple sources of information that might be conflicting or ambiguous, and on how we cope if our senses become impaired. Using psychophysical, electrophysiological and brain imaging techniques (fNIRS), Marc’s research projects address various topics such as sound localization, auditory processing, spatial reference frames, multisensory integration, sensory learning, and cognition.


Ed Vessel

Dr. Vessel is a Senior Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) in Frankfurt, Germany. His research group, the Visual Neuroaesthetics Lab, uses behavioral and brain imaging techniques to study the psychological and neural basis of aesthetic experiences, such as when a person is aesthetically “moved” by visual art, poetry, architecture, music, or natural landscapes. Through his work and service, Dr. Vessel aims to elevate the international profile of neuroaesthetics research: he is a board member of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and hosts events focused on neuroaesthetics both at MPIEA and international conferences. He received his PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Southern California and is former co-director of the New York University Artlab.


Jacob Vogel

I am a postdoctoral scholar working in the Lifespan Informatics & Neuroimaging Center, part of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. This is an odd place for a dementia researcher like myself to be working, like most researchers in our centre focus on neuropsychiatric illnesses in pediatric and young adult samples. My current research interests, however, are centred around discovering how environmental and genetic risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease manifest throughout the entire lifespan — including during brain development in infancy, childhood and adolescence.

My focus up to this point has been on using neuroimaging and omics data to better characterize the trajectory of neurodegenerative diseases. This research has been conducted with an emphasis on PET imaging, which I was trained to process and analyze at the Jagust Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. I did my PhD at the McGill Centre for Integrative Neuroscience in Montreal, where my attention shifted to using machine learning, imaging-transcriptomics and general neuroinformatics to synthesize insight from multimodal data. In my analyses, I like to apply unsupervised algorithms that “let the data speak”, and common themes of my research involve parsing disease heterogeneity and tracking early brain changes in response to pathology.


Michael Wenzel

Dr. Michael Wenzel is a Research Clinician who started his professional career at LMU Munich, completed a 4-year post-doc at Columbia University in Rafael Yuste’s lab in New York, and is currently situated at the University of Bonn, Germany. Forming part of the Hertie Network of Excellence in Clinical Neuroscience, he splits his effort between clinical neurology with a focus on clinical epileptology, and basic research in cellular scale network neurophysiology.

Dr. Wenzel’s two main research interests comprise neural micro-network mechanisms in chronic epilepsy and medically induced loss of consciousness. His group at Bonn University combines cutting edge cellular scale chronic in vivo two-photon imaging with electrophysiology, and behavioural assessment in mice. In close collaboration with the Dept. of Epileptology in Bonn, his group relates their murine findings to cellular resolution electrical recordings from depth electrode recordings in human patients.




erin westgate

Erin Westgate

Dr. Erin Westgate is a social psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida, where she studies boredom, interest, and why some thoughts are more engaging than others. She received her PhD in social psychology from the University of Virginia in 2018, and her undergraduate degree from Reed College. Much of her research has been on the conditions under which people enjoy or do not enjoy their own thoughts. She has extended that work to the larger question of why people become bored, developing a theoretical model of boredom that explains what boredom is, why we experience it, and what happens when we do.

According to the Meaning and Attentional Components (MAC) model, people feel bored when they can’t successfully engage their attention in meaningful activities.Thus, though people may not enjoy it, boredom provides important feedback, telling people whether they want and are able to focus on what they are doing. More recently, she has applied the MAC model to understanding the downstream consequences of boredom, including the paradoxical finding that while boredom sometimes produces positive outcomes, it also produces negative ones, including increasing people’s willingness to harm one’s self and others.


Meltem Yucel

Meltem Yucel is a sixth-year Developmental Psychology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia working with Dr. Amrisha Vaish. She is also a fellow of the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course (LIFE Academy), Student Affiliate at the Center for the Science of Moral Understanding, and Research Affiliate Intern at the Cornell University’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab.

Meltem is primarily interested in the development of social cognition and morality, specifically focusing on how and when children become moral beings. Using behavioural, eye-tracking, pupillometry, and network analysis methods, her research investigates how children and adults understand and enforce norms, and the role of affect in moral decision-making (Yucel, Hepach, & Vaish, 2020; Yucel & Vaish, 2018).