Research at Union
Contact these investigators directly to discuss research opportunities in their labs.
Department of Biology
In my laboratory we study visual perception and visual communication in reptiles using both behavioral and physiological methods. We are interested in how animals perceive and quantify color and motion in their environment. We also study the evolution of communication signals and see how response patterns of the sensory system interact with habitat characteristics to direct the evolution of visual signals. For example we have discovered that lizards see ultraviolet light and that many of their visual displays incorporate ultraviolet color patterns. Currently we are very interested in neural network models of motion detection and are comparing the response of live lizards to visual motion to responses of biologically-inspired computer models of motion perception. Reptiles share with humans and other vertebrates certain basic responses to visual stimuli making them an excellent model for studying the role of motion and color detection in the process of attention shift in vertebrates.
My research addresses quesitons regarding insect sensory systems, especially vision and neuroethology. More specifically this research addresses the role of descending interneurons in guiding foraging flight in dragonflies, and prey interception in dragonflies
For the past several years, my research has focused on using Drosophila as an animal model to understand the biological significance of the protein Palmitoyl Protein Thioesterase 1 (PPT1) in the recycling and degradation of materials in the lysosomes. PPT1 catalyzes the removal of the fatty acid Palmitate from cysteine residue of lipid-modified proteins. This function is vital because defective human PPT1 protein leads to a fatal pediatric neurological disorder called infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (INCL).
Department of Psychology
Research in my lab focuses on individual differences in cognitive abilities, decision-making, and other traits. We have explored how and why people differ from one another in intelligence, spatial ability, memory for faces, impulsiveness, and other characteristics. We use behavioral measurement techniques, as well as brain imaging (e.g., fMRI) and molecular genetics (e.g., SNP chips) to probe the biological mechanisms that underly these behavioral differences. We also study cognitive illusions, which are mistaken intuitive beliefs about how our minds work and how our decisions are influenced.
My specialty area is human memory and cognition, with particular
interests in normal long-term memory. My current research areas address
the following questions. Has evolution shaped what and how we remember?
Are the memorial consequences of fasting and glucose ingestion global,
or are some memory processes affected more than others? When do similar
memories hurt retrieval and when do they help it?
My research interests lie primarily in the realm of clinical neuropsychology. In particular, I am interested in the neuropsychological effects of exercise for older adults, especially as it might relate to the maintenance of cognitive and emotional functioning, and the prevention of dementia. A recent pilot study we conducted regarding the effects of an osteoporosis exercise program suggested a significant effect on executive function. Additionally, I am interested in the effects of expressive writing on the emotional and physical well-being of dementia caregivers.
Current research pursues three general goals: (1) Investigating neuronal plasticity associated with acquisition of new cognitive skills, recovery of function after brain injury, and degeneration of neuronal plasticity in the age related dementias. These studies include the use of behavioral, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and event related potentials (ERP) with patients and unimpaired volunteers; (2) Investigating the use and effects of implicit and explicit memory in the acquisition of cognitive skill using behavioral measures in patients and unimpaired populations; (3) Investigating neurological basis of social cognitive processing through the use of behavioral, fMRI, MRS with different populations.
Current research addresses issue of pain across the menstrual cycle, gender differences
in post-operative nausea and vomiting, the influence of gender and race
on pain reporting and treatment decisions,
Department of Computer Science
My vision is to build computer systems that can have fluent conversations with humans using English, or another human language, aswell as gestures and other non-verbal behaviors.
To have a fluent conversation, the system needs to be aware of the context in which the dialog is taking place. This context includes the human dialog partner, the previous dialog, as well as the surrounding environment. The system should use appropriate linguistic and non-linguistic means to relate to the context. For example, it needs to be able to refer to objects in the environment, and it needs to react to what the user says and does as well as to other changes in the context.
In recent projects, I have, for example, worked on a system that automatically generates English instructions to help a human user solve a task in a 3D virtual environment, or I have helped build an animated figure that can automatically generate the words and gestures to give walking directions across a college campus. My research involves computational modeling and implementation as well as studies of human communication.Contact Information:
My research involves the design and implementation of technology to help children with special needs access social and learning opportunities. For example, my current work uses interactive virtual characters in interventions for children with autism. From a neuroscience perspective, I am interested in understanding the neural bases of social interaction and learning; in particular how this understanding motivates or explains technology designs. As a first step, I have collaborated with neuroscientists to study neural bases of interaction with virtual characters versus humans using fMRI.