UCI child neurologist Dr. Tallie Z. Baram is awarded $15 million Conte Center grant

Research published by CNLM Fellow Dr. Sara Mednick suggests children who nap midday are happier, excel academically and have fewer behavioral problems

New research led by Dr. Sara Mednick, a CNLM Fellow and associate professor of cognitive science, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania suggests a connection between midday napping and increased happiness, self-control and grit. The study was published last week in the journal SLEEP, and featured in Tech Times. 
"It was the first comprehensive study of its kind, Mednick says. “Many lab studies across all ages have demonstrated that naps can show the same magnitude of improvement as a full night of sleep on discrete cognitive tasks. Here, we had the chance to ask real-world, adolescent schoolchildren questions across a wide range of behavioral, academic, social, and physiological measures.” 

Study touts new method to reduce cognitive side effects of brain cancer radiation treatment

Meet the Spring 2019 Brain Explorer Academy Mentors!

The Spring 2019 Brain Explorer Academy session is currently underway and the science mentors are enjoying working with the Orange County Middle Schoolers! 

The children and their mentors spend 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 and is possible thanks to the dedicated scientists who are passionate about science education and brain awareness. This spring, the program is led by co-chairs and doctoral students Morgan Coburn and Jonathan Hasselmann in partnership with Manuella Yassa, Director of Outreach and Education.

To learn more about the Brain Explorer Academy and to apply to participate in the next session, click here.


Manuella Yassa
Director of Outreach and Education, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Founder and Director, UC Irvine Brain Explorer Academy

My interests lie at the intersection of neuroscience and education and I am passionate about the mission of the Brain Explorer Academy. I obtained my Bachelor's Degree in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University before teaching middle school science in Baltimore, Maryland. I am lucky to work among the brilliant junior scientists and professors at UC Irvine who value science outreach and public education. We look forward to meeting you!


Morgan Coburn
Co-Chair, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Blurton-Jones

Hi! My name is Morgan and I’m a second year grad student. I focus on the intersection between the immune system and the brain in Dr. Blurton-Jones's lab, where we study human microglia and their role in neuroinflammatory or degenerative states like Alzhiemer's Disease. I’m a SoCal native and when I’m not running experiments in lab I enjoy drawing, hiking, or hitting the beach.


Jonathan Hasselmann
Co-Chair, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Blurton-Jones

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!


Jaclyn Beck
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Blurton-Jones

Hi, my name is Jaclyn. I'm interested in what goes wrong in the brain, so I study Alzheimer's Disease and how the brain's aging immune system plays a role. I got interested in neuroscience because of how much we still don't know about the brain -- it's this really complicated biological computer. It contains all of our thinking and memories and personalities, and yet we still don't entirely know how it works! I think the brain is the most amazing part of the human body. I hope that by the end of the Brain Explorer Academy, you'll agree!

Mitchell Farrell

Mitchel Farrell
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Steven Mahler

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!

Caden Henningfield

Caden Henningfield
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Kim Green

Hello! I’m Caden, and I am a graduate student at UCI. I am a Southern California native and I am interested in how the brain's resident immune cells, microglia, interact with the the brain during Alzheimer's disease. I like to think of the brain as a very tough puzzle that we as researchers try to put together piece by piece. I can’t wait to share my interests in neuroscience with you all!

Hokenson_ Rachael Elizabeth

Rachael Hokenson
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Tallie Z. Baram

Hi, I’m Rachael.  I was an undergraduate student at UCI and am now a first-year graduate student here.  I’ve long been interested in the brain, mainly psychiatric disorders and memory, and will be studying the effects of stress on memory and the sex differences observed in these reactions.  I look forward to encouraging young students to be interested in science as well as share how neuroscience research is important to public health and society as a whole.


Elizabeth Hubbard
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Rotating Graduate Student

Hello! My name is Lizzy and I am a current first year graduate student in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program. I hope to study how drug use changes our brains and lead to addiction. I am a SoCal native and enjoy running and swimming in my free time. This is my first year as a Brain Explorer mentor and I can’t wait to encourage young scholars' interest in the brain and answer any questions they may have about it!

Scott Killianski
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Bruce McNaughton

Hi, my name is Scott, and I am a PhD student studying how memories are changed during sleep in the laboratory of Bruce McNaughton. I am fascinated by how the brain responds to the outside world, how it makes memories, and what it does while we sleep. My interest in neuroscience was sparked in college. During an introductory lecture on the nervous system, I suddenly appreciated an established yet still astonishing fact! The brain controls our behaviors:  the way we eat, sleep, love our families and friends, compose music, travel to outer space, solve a math problem, do anything and everything! It was after that realization that I knew I had to pursue the question of how the brain actually does these things. I can't wait to share everything I've learned with you and hear everything you know about brain, too!
McQuade Photo

Amanda McQuade
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Mathew Blurton-Jones

Hi! I’m Amanda. I discovered my passion for science in elementary school through camps similar to the Brain Explorer's Academy, so I'm super excited to be a part of this program helping to inspire the next generation of curious scientists! This will be my second time participating as a mentor, and I can't wait meet everyone! Currently, I am studying how immune cells in the brain contribute to age-related diseases. My favorite thing about being a scientist is learning how to make new types of brain cells!


Julian Quintanilla
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Gary Lynch

Hey, my name is Julian and I am currently a second-year graduate student. My interest in how memories are formed on a biological level has led me to join the lab of Dr. Lynch. The work that I do revolves around why some memories can last a life time and others forgotten the next day, specifically how important events enhance our memory. Before entering graduate school, I spent some time working at several exhibits within the California Science Center in Los Angeles, CA. While here, I gained a passion for not only sparking science interest in others, but also space! So, if I’m not rambling on about the brain, it may be about other worldly things.


Hamsi Radhakrishnan
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Craig Stark

Hello! I am Hamsi and I am interested in how our brains change as a consequence of aging and disease! I am currently studying how white matter, the connecting tissue that helps different regions of our brains communicate with each other, deteriorate when we grow older and the ways in which it impacts our memory and cognition. My passion for science was fostered by many educators in my life (and a lot of kooky science fiction). I am so excited to share how beautifully mind-blowing our brains are with all of you!


Michelle Ren
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Shahrdad Loftipour

Hi, I’m Michelle! What do you think people mean when they say to trust your gut feelings or instincts? Turns out that our gut may actually have a mind of its own! My research focuses on how the bacteria in our gut influence our feelings and behavior, specifically related to reward and motivation. I find the brain so fascinating because it is the most powerful and unique thing we own!
Jessica Sanchez

Jessica Sanchez
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Mathew Blurton-Jones

Hi I'm Jessica. As a PhD graduate student I am able to combine my passion for science, teaching, mentoring, and exploring the brain. I study how the cells of the immune system, specifically microglia and T cells, influence Alzheimer's disease. When I'm not conducting research I enjoy playing video games and spending lots of time with my family. I am very excited to meet you all and share what's fascinating about the brain!

CNLM Hosts the Irvine Brain Bee – Winner Received Two Tickets to National Bee

By Jaclyn Beck

On February 16, 2019, UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) hosted 59 students from 23 different high schools in the inaugural Irvine Brain Bee. As a local chapter of the International Brain Bee, the Irvine Brain Bee aims to inspire Orange County high school students to learn about the brain and promote public engagement with neuroscience. More than just a neuroscience test, the brain bee is a whole-day experience that includes hands-on demonstrations, a keynote lecture, and lunch with UCI scientists.

Each year, the first-place winner of the Irvine Brain Bee receives a trip for two to participate in the USA National Brain Bee.

The first event of the day: neuroscience fact exam. A feeling of nervous excitement filled the room as students filed in to take the exam. They had been crunching brain facts for a few weeks to prepare. Many of them had attended a pre-competition review session led and taught by UCI graduate students, where they were given a good overview of brain anatomy and had the opportunity to ask questions. Two weeks later, at the Irvine Brain Bee, they were given both a written exam and a brain anatomy exam. Students were asked questions on topics like emotion, memory, sensory systems, and neurological diseases. The top ten scoring students went on to participate in the finals round later in the day.

With the test out of the way, the students were free to enjoy a lineup of brain-related activities. First, they had the opportunity to talk to a panel of UCI graduate students, where they asked questions ranging from advice about colleges to discussions about current neuroscience research. The panel featured a special appearance by Dr. James McGaugh, founding director of the CNLM and distinguished professor emeritus of Neurobiology and Behavior at UCI. Dr. McGaugh gave a short but inspirational talk highlighting the importance of memory and why we study it: “Our lives are only about one second long,” he said to the captive students. “Memory is how we hold on to our lives from one second to the next.”

After the panel, the students participated in several hands-on activities. They got to hold real human brains and sheep brains, and explore the different structures of each brain. Many of the students had never seen or touched a real brain before, and this was a unique opportunity for them. They also did experiments with Backyard Brains, where they got to control a robotic claw using signals from their own muscles. Lastly, they tested their ability to draw a star while looking at their hand in a mirror, which drew some laughs as it turned out to be much harder than it sounded.

The activities ended with a special keynote lecture by Dr. David Reinkensmeyer, a UCI professor and researcher of biorobotics. Students, parents, and the public were invited to listen as Dr. Reinkensmeyer highlighted his work which uses robotic devices to help stroke patients. He described how robot-assisted finger movement, for example, can “trick” the brain into strengthening pathways related to moving the finger on its own, which helps patients recover faster and maintain their recovery after therapy ends. His talk gave the audience a window into how diverse the field of neuroscience is and how many different applications it can have.

Finally, the day wrapped up with an exciting final round of oral questions. The top ten-scoring students from the morning exam sat in front of four UCI faculty judges and were asked challenging questions about the brain. Contestants were eliminated if they got three questions wrong. The high schoolers were so well-prepared that the judges were left digging for more challenging questions! After being pelted with over 40 questions and a neck-and-neck race for first place, the competition finally had a winner.

In third place was 10th grader Vardaan Bhat, from Irvine’s University High School. This was Mr. Bhat’s first Brain Bee, and he says his favorite part of the day was touching the brains. He is a Boy Scout and hopes to be an Eagle Scout soon. We look forward to seeing Vardaan again at next year’s competition!

In second place was Shrinidhi Gopal, a 10th grader from Dougherty Valley High School in northern California. Ms. Gopal is no stranger to competitions like this: she also participated in the Scripps National Spelling Bee as well as local science fairs. “The keynote lecture was so inspiring and the entire day’s events have increased my interest in neuroscience so much more,” she said of the competition.

The first place winner of the inaugural Irvine Brain Bee was Snehaa Ganesh, an 11th grader from Vista Del Lago High School, who joined us all the way from Sacramento. Ms. Ganesh told her parents that she had to be in Irvine that day, but didn’t tell them why. She surprised them with the reason as they arrived on UCI’s campus. She plans to study astrophysics in college and says that competing in the Brain Bee has inspired her to minor in neuroscience.

As the winner, Ms. Ganesh will advance to participate in the 2019 USA Brain Bee.

The 2019 Irvine Brain Bee would not be possible without the support of our headlining sponsor, The Allergan Foundation.




Jaclyn Beck

Jaclyn Beck received her M.S. in Computer Science from UW-Madison and is now a PhD student in neuroscience at UCI. She studies how the brain’s immune system plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. She is very interested in making science fun and educational for children and adults alike. She hopes that encouraging good communication between scientists and the general public will lead to a larger and more diverse group of scientists.


Researchers discover neural patterns key to understanding disorders such as PTSD

Researchers discover neural patterns key to understanding disorders such as PTSD

Dr. David Eagleman draws huge crowds to the Irvine Barclay Theatre for the 25th Annual Distinguished Lecture Series on Brain, Learning, and Memory

By: Maria Montchal

“There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain. And each one of these is sending tens or hundreds of electrical pulses to thousands of other neurons every second of your life. And somehow, all of this activity produces your sense of reality. Your brain is not hard-wired to do this, it is live-wired. Every day your brain is learning, adapting, updating. We are not fixed. From cradle to grave, we are works in progress.” - Dr. David Eagleman

This January, for the 25th annual lecture series on Brain, Learning and Memory, the UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory presented Dr. David Eagleman — a neuroscientist, New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur, and passionate science communicator. This lecture series was founded by James L. McGaugh and has become UCI’s most highly acclaimed community lecture.

It was a rigorous day for Dr. Eagleman. Early in the morning, UCI faculty, staff, undergraduate,  and graduate students sat down in a “fireside-like” chat where attendees asked about his scientific career, entrepreneurial feats, innovative research, and his creativity. He described the pleasures and difficulties of being an entrepreneur scientist, an educator, and family man; the late hours and sacrifices that he had to do for his dreams.  “When I was a child, I was inspired by Carl Sagan” he replied when asked about his scientific beginnings. “I wanted to be just like him.”

Later that evening, Dr. Eagleman delivered a sharp and moving lecture to an overflowing audience at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Each of the 750 seats were filled, and even more watched Eagleman’s presentation on monitors in the lobby. The audience’s enthusiasm was understandable—Eagleman is a Guggenheim Fellow, has been named a Goldman Sachs "Intriguing Innovator of the Year", and has published both fiction and nonfiction books, in addition to his innovative research.

Much of Eagleman’s work focuses on how the brain can perceive the world around it. Imagine being unable to hear. What if scientists were able to translate sound into something you could feel, like vibration? Eagleman is also the CEO of NeoSensory, a company that creates devices to do just that. Using a special device called a haptic vest that translates sounds into patterns of vibration, deaf people can “hear” by experiencing vibrations at different places on the vest. The pattern of vibrations is based on the frequency of the sound, which distinguishes different words and sounds from each other. Eventually, participants’ brains interpret the patterns of vibrations into words. Eagleman likens it to how blind people can read braille—the information is being translated to a different sense. Amazingly, his participants are able to understand words that they hear through the vest’s vibrations. This work has a big impact on their lives. Participants have reported being able to hear sounds like alarm clocks, car honks and sneezing, for the first time.

Aside from translating one sense into another, Eagleman posed the tantalizing question of whether we can expand the realm of information we can perceive. In his words, “can we create new senses for humans?” One version of the haptic vests allows people to “sense” the location of other people around them through vibrations in the vest. It can also be used to let people perceive more abstract information, like stock market data or trending hashtags on social media.

Eagleman ended by saying there is limitless potential for what we can sense: “How do you want to experience your universe?”

The Distinguished Lecture Series on Brain, Learning and Memory, founded in 1995, is an integral part of the CNLM's outreach mission. Lectures are free and are intended for a lay audience. Attendees are provided with ample opportunity to interact with and ask questions of the speakers. Lectures are generally 45-50 minutes long and are followed by about 20-30 minutes of questions from the audience.

“Space and time have always been intricately linked, and the common wisdom in our field was that the mechanisms involved in one probably supported the other as well. But our results suggest otherwise,” says Maria Montchal, a UCI graduate student in neurobiology & behavior who led the study.

Yassa lab

Maria Montchal
Maria is the chair of the communications committee in the CNLM Ambassadors program. She received her B.A. in Psychology and French from Drew University. She is grateful to several excellent science communicators who showed her that science can be really interesting and fun. She now tries to do the same for others. Feel free to ask her about the brain regions that help you form and retrieve memories, or the physics of cats landing on their feet.

Brain Awareness Week 2019!

The UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) partnered with the Dana Foundation and the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation to teach children about the brain during the 2019 Brain Awareness Week.

Brain Awareness Week is a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Founded by the Dana Foundation in 1996, Brain Awareness Week unites the efforts of partner organizations from around the world in a week-long celebration of the brain every March.

This year during Brain Awareness Week, the CNLM hosted a workshop as part of the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation's Making Memories for Children STEAM workshop series.

During this immersive, hands-on neuroscience experience, children had the opportunity to interact with UCI neuroscientists to learn about the brain! Children held real preserved brains in their own hands, they learned about the cells that make up the nervous system, and created models of neurons. Children also explored how brain cells talk to each other and learned about memory and how scientists test memory in the laboratory.


UCI Graduate Student Advocates for Brain Science at California State Capitol

You may have seen her research on how the brain marks time in the news last week. This week, she's educating and advocating for brain science in Sacramento! Maria Montchal, UCI graduate student was one of 12 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to be invited to the California State Capitol to practice translating their research for decision makers. The event, which is attended by legislative and executive offices as well as members of the Capitol community "provides early-career scientists an excellent opportunity to present their research to a policy audience - and to highlight some of the relevant research being conducted in California," states California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) Interim Executive Director Amber Mace, Ph.D..

Assemblymember Jose Medina, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, partnered with CCST to make the event possible.  "Opening the lines of communication between California's researchers and policymakers can only help to ensure the bright future of California."

Earlier this week, Maria also participated in the Alzheimer's Association State Advocacy Day where she was able to advocate on behalf of Alzheimer’s disease research and the need for a concerted effort and focused resources to find solutions for this insidious disease.

Assemblymember Jose Medina with the 2019 CCST Science Translators and CCST’s Brie Lindsey. Photo by Will Bucquoy courtesy of CCST

Assemblymember Jose Medina with the 2019 CCST Science Translators and CCST’s Brie Lindsey. Photo by Will Bucquoy courtesy of CCST

"Opening the lines of communication between California's researchers and policymakers can only help to ensure the bright future of California."

Communicating science to the public and in particular to policymakers is a critical component of advancing the scientific mission and agenda. In her capacity as the Chair of the Communications Committee for the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory’s Ambassador Program, Maria fosters these opportunities for graduate students and other junior scientists. She is excited to bring her experiences at the State Capitol back to UCI to help inform and guide UCI’s trainees.

The University of California, Irvine’s mission cannot be sustained without the support of the community and the federal and state governments. Communicating scientific knowledge to policymakers and other decision makers ensures that investment in scientific discovery is not compromised or de-prioritized. Fortunately, students like Maria are up for the task, and are taking every opportunity to educate and advocate for science.

To learn more please contact Manuella Yassa, CNLM Director of Outreach and Education at manuella.yassa@uci.edu or (949) 824-5103

UCI Graduate Student Maria Montchal with California State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris Photo by Will Bucquoy courtesy of CCST

UCI Graduate Student Maria Montchal with California State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris Photo by Will Bucquoy courtesy of CCST

Scientist Spotlight: Eva Morozko – hitting her mark in the lab and on the field


Interview by Maria Montchal
Art by Blake Miranda

This week's scientist spotlight is on Eva Morozko, Ph.D. student in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at UCI who studies Huntington's Disease with Dr. Leslie Thompson. Eva is also Co-Chair of the Professional Development Committee of the CNLM Ambassador Program. We chatted with her about science and archery!

How did you get into neuroscience?
Neurobiology has always been a topic I was interested in. I believe the first thing that caught my attention was learning about the neuromuscular junction, that is, how our neurons connect to our muscles to move them. My mother had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease that greatly affects movement. So I’ve been interested in how our brain functions to control the different systems in our body and how those connections breakdown during disease ever since.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Being able to ask questions and run experiments to answer them instead of relying on others to figure it out. I’ve always been a tactile learner and being able to use my hands to figure stuff out is my happy place.  Plus, my field is very family oriented due to the nature of the disease I study (Huntington’s) so being a part of that emotionally is very rewarding.

What is one thing you think people should know about science?
Sometimes we need to answer smaller questions first before we get to the big picture. Organisms are complicated structures that rely on tiny molecules randomly interacting at times to function. Understanding these small events helps us understand how we function as a whole.

What is an area of research you think is really interesting outside of what you do, and why?
I’m really interested in virology and how viruses may cause or contribute to disease. Viruses are so cool since they are literally just DNA (or RNA) that can hijack your cells and trick them into doing something against their will. Creepy but amazingly powerful, tiny particles that can mutate to survive and be dormant until ready to strike!

Tell me about an interesting/unexpected hobby you have.
I’ve been competing as a collegiate archer for the last 4 years. I shoot Olympic Recurve aka the bows they shoot at the Olympics and have won a few national titles. It’s challenging and requires me to focus on something else entirely for a while. Sort of like yoga with pointy objects.

If you had to pick another job/career, what would it be and why?
I would be an FBI or CIA agent working in Biosecurity or Homeland security. My original dream career was a forensic scientist until I realized I’d most likely be running the same type of tests again and again which seemed boring once I started doing lab research in college. Being a field agent or investigative agent would allow me to still work on puzzles and answer questions but just be cooler. That or I’d go back in time, learn how to play an instrument (i.e. not be musically illiterate) and compose film scores for movies like Gravity or Harry Potter.

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Scientist Spotlight is a series of the CNLM Ambassador Program's Communications Committee. The committee is led by graduate student Maria Montchal

About the artist
Blake Miranda is a UCI Alum '18 and has worked at UCI in a variety of academic and clinical roles. He combines his lifelong love of art with the mission of the CNLM Ambassadors. His research interests include how maltreatment in early childhood influences the likelihood of developing neurological disorders, as well as the role of drug and non-drug interventions for Alzheimer’s disease. Click here to email Blake.