An animal’s ability to maintain its sense of the world around it and be able to interact with its environment depends in large part on the nervous system’s ability to perform a few basic functions. The nervous system must reliably convert physical energy into neural activity, integrate various types of sensory information to construct a veridical representation of the external world, and be able use this information to generate accurate movements of various effectors (e.g. arm or eyes) in order to interact efficiently with the surrounding environment. For example, humans use a specialized receptor sheet (the retina) to convert photons into neural activity. This visual information, combined with information from other sensory modalities (e.g. sense of balance and limb position), is used to generate commands for future movements (e.g. a reaching movement towards a coffee cup). The veridicality of information at each stage of this sensory to motor transformation can make the difference between coffee ending up in your mouth or on your shirt!
I am a behavioral neuroscientist whose interests revolve around the neural mechanisms underlying sensorimotor transformations required for producing and maintaining accurate movements throughout an organism’s lifetime. As a graduate student at the University of Rochester, I became interested in the neural mechanisms underlying the control of rapid, coordinated eye and head movements used to shift the line of sight towards visual objects of interest. By combining psychophysical and neurophysiological techniques I have been able to study human and monkey subjects’ ability to adjust motor output, the amplitude of eye and head movements, based on changed visual inputs. During the academic year, students in my lab at Elizabethtown College use human eye movements as a model to test a variety of hypotheses describing motor learning during orienting movements in young, elderly and disease (e.g. Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, the cerebellar ataxias) populations. During the summer months I often travel to the University of Pittsburgh where I can continue to perform behavioral and neurophysiological studies in primate models.