USTAR Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy,
Brain and Behavior
The Wachowiak Lab
B.S. 1990, Duke University; Ph.D. 1996, University of Florida; Postdoctoral Fellow 1998-2002, Yale Univeristy School of Medicine.
Understanding the basic principles of olfactory function
We study how the nervous system encodes odor information, and how the brain processes this information. In other words, how does the brain identify smells? This is a tough problem because: (1) most smells are complex mixtures of different odor molecules; (2) the number of different smells that an animal must detect and identify is huge; and (3) the olfactory environment is highly varied over time and space. Our focus is on understanding how patterns of neural activity encode odor information and how this code changes as a result of neural processing.
Another major interest of the lab is to understand olfaction as an active sense in which the detection, encoding and processing of odor information is shaped by the animal's behavior at all levels of the nervous system. We use optical imaging as a primary tool to directly visualize neural activity as an animal smells an odor, and also to investigate how neurons process olfactory information using reduced preparations. We image activity in the earliest stages of the olfactory pathway - among olfactory receptor neurons, which detect odorants, and neurons in the olfactory bulb, the first stage of olfactory processing in the brain.