How does sensory experience guide our behavior? How do multiple sensory modalities work together to contribute to our perception of the world? How can the way we process sensory information change throughout life and be shaped by our prior experiences?
These are the fundamental questions that drive my research. I am interested in how inputs from multiple sensory systems are integrated in the brain, and how sensory information influences behavioral output such as reward-driven responses. I have used both monkeys and mice in a variety of projects to work toward answering these questions in the auditory, visual, and olfactory systems. My prior training in both biological and psychological perspectives allows me to connect my research on monkeys and mice with similar human-based mechanisms, helping to shed light on how human consciousness is shaped by sensory experience.
As a Ph.D. Candidate, I am exploring these questions using a variety of approaches. My current research focuses on the neural properties that allow the brain to integrate visual and auditory information. In the laboratory of Dr. Jennifer Groh at Duke University, I use electrophysiological, behavioral, and computational techniques to study how neurons in monkeys efficiently encode both visual and auditory cues to help monkeys understand physical space. Previously, I completed two lab rotations: 1) In the laboratory of Dr. John Pearson, I used computational tools to compare patterns of inner ear vibrations when people view and listen to associated or dissociated visual and auditory stimuli. 2) In the laboratory of Dr. Lindsey Glickfeld, I studied experience-dependent plasticity in the mouse visual system by conducting two-photon imaging to measure how visually-responsive neurons changed their responses to visual stimuli at specific benchmarks while mice learned a task.
Before entering graduate school at Duke, I worked as an undergraduate research assistant in the laboratory of Dr. Sandra Kuhlman at Carnegie Mellon University, studying experience-dependent visual plasticity in mice using behavioral, optical, and computational techniques.
Feese, B.D., Pafundo, D.E., Schmehl, M.N., and Kuhlman, S.J. (2017). Binocular deprivation induces both age-dependent and age-independent forms of plasticity in parvalbumin inhibitory neuron visual response properties. Journal of Neurophysiology, 119(2), 738-751. (PMID: 29118195)