Over the next few months, 40 Orange County children ages 8-14 will have the chance to work hand-in-hand with with UC Irvine scientists to learn about brain science, brain health, scientific communication and critical thinking. The children will be spending their Saturday mornings at the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory as part of the Center’s Brain Explorer Academy. This program is 100% free for children and is possible because of the group of dedicated scientists who will spend their Saturday mornings shaping the next generation of brain scientists. Though the scientists below come from different labs and are studying various different parts of the brain, they all have something in common: a passion for brain science and a drive to share this passion with you!

Manuella Yassa, Program Director
Hi I’m Manuella and I’m the Director of the Brain Explorer Academy. What I love most about science is that scientists get to ask questions that have never been asked and discover the answers themselves, creating knowledge! Can you imagine how exciting it must feel to discover something for the first time and then to share it with the world? I am looking forward to bringing you into the world of science and to exploring the brain with you!


Spring 2018 Brain Explorer Academy Science Mentor Team

Postdoctoral Fellows
(Postdoctoral Fellows have finished graduate school and earned Ph.D.s. They are now working in a laboratory to gain more experience and often learn a new skill or technique before choosing a career path.)

Dane Clemenson, Ph.D.
My name is Dr. Dane Clemenson and I am research scientist here at UCI. Using video games, my research examines how people navigate, explore, and remember their surrounding environment. I especially enjoy creating virtual environments for people to roam around in so that I can better understand the decisions they make as they explore. I’m excited to share my experience as a scientist and I look forward to working with you.


Amy Frithsen, Ph.D.
My name is Amy and I’m a research scientist here at UCI. My research focuses on human memory and what parts of our brains become active when we try to remember things. Getting people – especially children – to start thinking critically about current issues is extremely important to me and I believe that a strong foundation in the scientific method is a great way to introduce this style of thinking. Additionally, science can be really exciting and fun and I’m really happy to get an opportunity to get kids pumped up about science and particularly about brains!




Valeria Lallai, Ph.D.
Hi, I’m Dr. Valeria Lallai, Postdoctoral fellow in the department of Neurobiology and Behavior at UCI. Before coming to California I lived in Italy where I studied to earn my Ph.D. Here at UCI I study genes to understand how brain cells communicate with each other.  I have a passion for education and for teaching young people about science. I cannot wait to  study with you the apparatus with which we actually study, our brain!

Graduate Students
(Graduate Students have finished undergraduate training and earned Bachelor’s Degrees. They are now in graduate school studying to earn a Ph.D.)
Mitchell Farrell, B.S.
Hello! My name is Mitch and I’m from New Jersey where I grew up with my four brothers and four basset hounds. At UCI, I study how the brain motivates us to do things. Ever wonder why we crave our favorite foods when hungry or seek out water when we’re thirsty?  These are the types of questions I research and can’t wait to share my interests with you!


Jonathan Hasselmann, B.S.
Hi, my name is Jonathan Hasselmann and I am a neurobiology PhD student in Dr. Mathew Blurton-Jones’ lab. I became interested in neuroscience because I was fascinated by memory and how our memories shape the decisions that we make and the people that we are. I study microglia (a type of brain cell) to try to figure out what happens in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. If we can understand what this disease is doing to the brain, then hopefully we can figure out how to treat it. I can’t wait to meet you all so that we can explore the brain together!

Amanda McQuade, B.S.
Hi! I’m Amanda. I found my love for science in grade school and am thrilled to be living out my passion as a graduate student at UCI. Currently, I am studying how the immune system may influence brain diseases. My favorite thing about being a scientist is working with stem cells and turning them into brain cells!


Maria Montchal, B.S.
Hi! I’m Maria, and I’m a graduate student at UCI studying how we remember different aspects of experiences. My favorite thing about science is that scientific discoveries can help to make the world a better place and spark curiosity that leads to even more knowledge. I’m looking forward to talking about science with everyone!

Noora Siddiqui, B.S.
Hi! I’m Noora — a lifetime student of the sciences and a lover of all things computers and chemistry! When I’m not nose-deep in literature about ethyl formate and the flavor of raspberries in the galaxy (google it!), I can be found studying how to use computers to help us develop cures for disease. In a lot of ways, our brain is just like a computer — both can store memory, recognize patterns, solve problems, and make decisions. Pretty neat, isn’t it?!

Undergraduate Students
(Undergraduate Students are studying to earn their Bachelor’s Degrees)

antMichael Gomez
Hi my name is Michael, I am an undergraduate student wanting to fulfill the dream of becoming a Neuroscientist. I’ve been fascinated by every book I’ve read about the brain and I want to perpetuate the feeling. I want to know the secrets that both the brain as an organ and the fruit it bears—consciousness– have. Paraphrasing Carl Sagan, understanding the brain has become a kind of bliss.



Lena Nguyen
Hello! My name is Lena and I am a biology student and a research assistant in the Cognition and Emotion laboratory that studies the effects of stress on memory at UCI! Before moving to Irvine for school I lived in Half Moon Bay, a small little surf town near San Francisco. I came to the sciences because the world, our bodies, and our knowledge are capable of amazing things that have the potential to help others! I love how our brain can raise so many questions and we can find answers to why we snack on food when we’re bored or how we store information and memories. I look forward to studying with you!

Research Staff
Anna Smith, B.S.
Hi! My name is Anna. I grew up in Colorado, moved to Minnesota to study, and am now doing memory research at UCI while I prepare for graduate school. One of the most interesting things about the brain, I think, is that our experiences aren’t stored and replayed like mental film reels. I love to ask questions about what makes certain features of our memories stand out more than others, and investigate the ways we mis-remember things that we’ve seen. On the topic of memory, it’s easy for me to recall the first times I dipped my toes into the study of neuroscience, and I’m excited to be part of that process of discovery for all of you!