Columbia University in the City of New York

This One-Time Tennis Pro Switches Brain Cells On and Off

Meet Graduate Student Amir Lawen, Neurobiology and Behavior Program

Amir Lawen, while training to be a physician, was struck by the amazing things biological systems can do: their ability to be more than the sum of their parts. As an MD-PhD student in the Kahn and Zuker labs, he now studies how the brain's many parts work together (to integrate information from the senses, for example). Using genetic and pharmacological interventions, he turns on and off groups of brain cells in awake and behaving mice. He scans these animals in real-time with fMRI, a non-invasive imaging technique that assesses blood oxygenation levels to infer neural activity, to better understand how brain regions connect and cooperate. Lawen, a pianist and former professional tennis player, hopes that this big-picture view of the brain could help us better understand how we form our perceptions of the world.




Custom equipment designed and 3D printed by Lawen for use in the MRI


An MRI machine designed for non-human animals and optimized for functional brain mapping (fMRI)


Lawen's computer for analyzing fMRI datasets


Brain activity measured from fMRI data



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