Max Planck Florida’s Neurotransmissions Podcast

Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

Neuroscience stories from the lab and life: By scientists, for everyone. Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) researchers Ben Scholl, Ph.D., Joe Schumacher, Ph.D., Jeremy Chang, Ph.D, and Misha Smirnov, Ph.D. host Neurotransmissions: an engaging, accessible look inside the neuroscience research world, exploring current research topics and emerging technologies, public health issues in the domain of biomedical science, the intersection between science and society, and unique perspectives and experiences across generations of neuroscientists. Production and communication support by Dr. Helena Decker, Katie Edwards and Kevin Albertini.

All Episodes

In this episode, Jeremy and Joe talk with Dr. Hillel Adesnik, Associate Professor at the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkley. Together they explore Dr. Adesnik’s work understanding the neural basis of perception, the challenges facing this area of study, and the philosophy of how we understand the concept of perception.

Aug 27

52 min 12 sec

In this episode, Dr. Mark Churchland talks with MPFI postdocs Jeremy Chang and Alex Gribizis about his research into the function of the motor cortex. Dr. Churchland's lab at Columbia University studies the role of neural activity that affects movement. He takes us through a brief history of this field of study, the limitations of brain-machine interfaces, and talks about where he sees his research going in the future.

Aug 12

34 min 25 sec

In this episode, Joe and Misha talk to Dr. Mackenzie Mathis about deep learning with artificial neural networks. She takes us through her experience developing computer vision tools like DeepLabCut, as well as her research into adaptive motor control at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL).

Jul 1

36 min 31 sec

On this episode of Neurotransmissions, Dr Jeff Lichtman professor of Neuroscience at Harvard University and our guest from the 2nd episode of Neurotransmissions is back to visit during MPFI’s annual imaging course. We were lucky enough that Dr. Lichtman spared a bit of time to sit down with Misha and Alex to discuss recent progress that has been made in the field of connectomics. Learn about ongoing projects, technological progress and hurdles, and the growing understanding about the value of connectomics in understanding the brain.

Jun 3

29 min 5 sec

On this career-focused episode Joe, Audrey, and Jeremy catch up with friend of the podcast Dr. David Schneider. When Dr. Schneider was last on the podcast (Episode 15), he was a postdoctoral fellow newly on the job market looking for an independent position. Now he is running his own lab as an Assistant Professor of Neural Science at New York University. Hear about the factors Dr. Schneider considered when applying for jobs, the process of interviewing, how he started his lab at NYU, and what he’s thinking about when it comes to auditory cued behaviors in the future.

Apr 30

59 min 27 sec

As they say, “Better late than never!”. We've been digging back into our archive and found this once thought to be a lost interview with Dr. Indira Raman from 2018! Join Joe, Audrey, and Matt as they sit down with Dr. Raman, the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Northwestern University, to discuss what we know and don’t know about cerebellum. Hear also about how Dr. Raman's essays, such as ‘Living Science: Triaging Shakespeare’ (, allow her to humorously articulate the uncertainty and creative pressures that go along with a career in modern science. Enjoy!

Apr 16

47 min 58 sec

How can quantitative methods help us understand how the brain works? On this episode Joe, Jeremy, and Alex are joined by Dr. Peter Dayan the director of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany. They'll discuss the different computational approaches taken to understand how the brain works, Dr. Dayan's own work using models to understand reinforcement learning and the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine in this process, and the goal of the International Brain Laboratory. Enjoy!

Feb 23

43 min 27 sec

In this episode, Joe and Misha talk to Dr. Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, author of the new book “NeuroScience Fiction” and researcher who famously identified the Jennifer Aniston neuron. They dive into everything from Dr. Quiroga’s work with concept cells to his fascinating look at the convergence of neuroscience with futuristic sci-fi. They also explore the evolution of AI and what it means to have consciousness.

Dec 2020

55 min 36 sec

On this episode Jeremy and new guest co-host Alex Gribizis chat with Dr. W. Martin Usrey, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and the University of Davis. With Dr. Usrey we learn more about the structure of the visual system, the interactions between these different structures, and things Dr. Usrey has learned along the way about mentorship.

Dec 2020

41 min 40 sec

In this episode, Joe and Misha talk with Kaela Singleton, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Cell Biology at Emory University and co-founder and president-elect of Black in Neuro. We learn about her research into Menkes Disease, how her career in science has evolved throughout the years, and the work she is doing to help raise visibility and cultivate opportunities for black neuroscientists through the #BlackinNeuro movement.

Oct 2020

35 min 42 sec

How does the clinic influence the bench? Joe, Jeremy, and Audrey are joined by Dr. Peter Tsai Assistant Professor in the departments of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, Neuroscience, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry at UT South Western. Learn how Dr. Tsai's experience in the clinic led him down a path of investigating the surprising role of the cerebellum in autism spectrum disorder and how Dr Tsai's findings in the lab could impact the development of future treatments.

Jun 2020

42 min 42 sec

How did an ancient virus help shape the human brain? In this episode, Joe and Jeremy sit down with Dr. Jason Shepherd, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Biochemistry and Opthalmology & Visual Sciences at the University of Utah School of Medicine, to discuss the role of Arc (activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein) in the regulation of synaptic plasticity. Learn also how Dr. Shepherd and his group discovered a possible new role for Arc in transcellular signaling that may indicate its origin as an ancient retrovirus that integrated into the genome. If you can bear the puns, this episode packs a fascinating story of a career bridging molecular and in vivo processes and an unanticipated discovery.

May 2020

50 min 55 sec

Cells that fire together wire together. Hebbian mechanisms of plasticity, summarized by that simple phrase, have dominated the field of learning and memory for decades. However, they present limitations when applied to many behavioral paradigms. On this episode Jeremy, Audrey, and Andre sit down with Dr. Jeff Magee, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, The Cullen Foundation Distinguished Endowed Chair at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, and Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine. They'll discuss how Dr. Magee's work looking at dendritic processes led him and his group to discover a new plasticity paradigm, in place field learning that breaks from traditional Hebbian rules. Hear also how Dr. Magee keeps active in the lab and his advice for young investigators.

Apr 2020

30 min 15 sec

On the final episode recorded live from the Society for Neuroscience Conference 2019, Jeremy sits down with Dr. Kurt Thoroughman, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Washing University in St. Louis, and Director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Cognitive Neuroscience program. Learn about how NSF is structured, the role of a program director, how a grant application is evaluated, and the opportunities available for trainees.

Apr 2020

23 min 46 sec

At the 2019 Society for Neuroscience Conference in Chicago Misha catches up with an old friend of the podcast Dr. Lauren Ullrich (Ep #13), Scientific Program Manager at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Learn about the process of applying for funding from the NIH and how Dr. Ullrich's new podcast 'Building up the Nerve' is giving a peek into the life cycle of a grant.

Mar 2020

34 min 52 sec

Our series of interviews at the Society for Neuroscience Conference 2019 in Chicago keeps on rolling as Jeremy sits down with Dr. Marina Picciotto Charles B.G . Murphy Professor of Psychiatry and Professor in the Child Study Center of Neuroscience and of Pharmacology, Deputy Chair for Basic Science Research in the Dept of Psychiatry, Deputy Director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale University, and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Neuroscience. They'll chat about how the Journal of Neuroscience supports the Society for Neuroscience, publishing in and training opportunities at the Journal of Neuroscience, Dr. Picciotto's approach to mentorship, and her lab's work looking at nicotine addiction. Enjoy!

Mar 2020

26 min 30 sec

The neuro-revolution is coming. In this episode Jeremy sits down with Drs. Greg Gage and Etienne Serbe in Chicago from Backyard Brains. From an exciting challenge centered around the SfN conference to programs centered around designing new experiments, learn about how Backyard Brains is bringing new opportunities to learn about neuroscience to the next generation of scientists.

Feb 2020

22 min 52 sec

Once again Neurotransmissions traveled to the annual Society for Neuroscience conference to chat with some new and old friends. In the first episode of our five-part miniseries, Misha is joined by Tavita Garrett former MPFI post-baccalaureate and current graduate student at Oregon Health & Science University to chat about postbac programs, the path to graduate school, and the joys of electrophysiology. But first, we're joined by previous guest co-host Dr. Paul Evans and current MPFI Head of Scientific training to learn more about the MPFI postbac program (formerly the PRE program) and upcoming deadlines for applications.

Feb 2020

34 min 2 sec

Our two-part series of interviews with Dr. Bert Sakmann continues as he explains to Joe and Misha how he got interested in neuroscience, his work on characterizing ion channels, the finer points of electrophysiology and the importance of synapses. If you have not had a chance yet, make sure to check out part one of our conversation with Dr. Sakmann.

Feb 2020

23 min 49 sec

How does a Max Planck Institute end up in Florida? On this special 50th episode we have the first part of a two-part series of interviews recorded in June 2016, with Dr. Bert Sakmann, Nobel Prize Recipient and the Inaugural Scientific Director of Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Joe and Misha sit down with Dr. Sakmann as he recounts the early days of Max Planck Florida: kiteboarding, recruiting scientists to the institute and developing a scientific program.

Jan 2020

28 min 55 sec

How does language get processed in the brain? New research is taking our understanding of how the brain processes language and speech beyond Broca and Wernicke's areas. This week Joe and Misha are joined by Dr. David Poeppel Director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt and Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University to discuss the finer details of language.

Jan 2020

47 min 22 sec

In this episode, Misha and Andre are joined by Dr. Bernardo Rudy, Valentino D.B. Mazzia, MD, JD Professor of Anesthesiology, Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Care, and Pain Medicine and Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology at New York University. Learn the curious path Dr. Rudy took to obtaining two PhDs, his labs work on the types and roles of cortical interneurons and the challenges that still remain in classifying types of neurons.

Dec 2019

32 min 47 sec

How visual is the visual cortex? In this episode, Joe and Jeremy are joined by Dr. Nathalie Rochefort, Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Chancellor's Fellow at the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh to discuss why long-held views about the function of the visual cortex are being challenged today. Learn how Dr. Rochefort went from studying the history of sciences to making her own new discoveries and how new approaches are allowing her team and others to understand functions of the visual cortex beyond vision.

Dec 2019

30 min 51 sec

What approaches are researchers taking to understand which neurons talk to each other in the brain? Joe and Misha sit down with Dr. Moritz Helmstaedter, Scientific Director and Head of the Department of Connectomics at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt Germany. They'll discuss the current state of connectomics, the approaches researchers are taking, the challenges of working with the large datasets necessary to understand neuronal connections, and the work that Dr. Helmstaedter's group is doing with electron microscopy to map the connections within the brain.

Nov 2019

40 min 25 sec

We dug up another episode from our archive for you to enjoy this week. Misha, Joe, and guest co-host Dr. Helena Decker, MPFI's Head of Scientific Communications, sit down with Dr. Roberto Lent, head of the Laboratory for Neuroplasticity of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Federal do Rio de Janeiro. They will discuss Dr. Lent's efforts in counting the neurons of the brain, the concept of the disconnectome, and the work Dr. Lent is doing in science outreach and education.

Oct 2019

44 min

Joe and Andre sit down with Dr. Pierre Vanderhaeghen, Group leader at VIB research institute. Learn about what makes the human brain special methods that Dr. Vanderhaeghen's group uses to investigate the development of the human brain, and how the preservation of early traits through adulthood could play a role in making the human brain adaptable.

Sep 2019

36 min 26 sec

On this episode Joe and first time co-host Jeremy Chang sit down with Dr. Gyorgy Buzsaki, Biggs Professor of Neuroscience at New York University. They explore the types of oscillatory activity that occurs within the brain and how this activity may aid in the packaging of information within the brain. They also discuss the classical empiricists viewpoint of the brain and how approaching the questions of how the brain works can be benefited by taking an inside-out viewpoint that looks at how the brain predicts and interacts with the external world and the importance of sharing data. We hope you enjoy this wide-ranging episode, and Dr. Buzsaki's open data sets can be found at

Sep 2019

34 min 37 sec

On this episode, we returned to our vault and found this March 2016 discussion (our first recording ever!), where Joe, Misha, and Ben were joined by Dr. Jason Kerr, Director of the Department of Behavior and Brain Organization the Center of Advanced European Studies and Research (caesar). In a wide-ranging conversation, they’ll discuss the adventure in neuroscience that would end up with a New Zealander living in Germany, what it is like to be a group leader and director in the Max Planck system, the importance of studying natural behaviors and dive deep into the specialization of the visual system across species.

Aug 2019

51 min 15 sec

On our final episode recorded at SfN 2017, Joe sits down with Dr. Christine Constantinople, now Assistant Professor at New York University, to discuss risk-reward learning and starting up a lab. Then Joe sits down with Dr. Matthew Lovett-Baron, postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and soon to be Assistant Professor in the Neurobiology section at UCSD, to discuss his work using zebrafish the look at the role of neuromodulation in the regulation of escape behavior.

Jul 2019

27 min 14 sec

Our series of in the field recordings from SfN 2017 continues as Misha gets a chance to catch up again with Dr. BN Queenan (Episode 13), associate director of the UCSB Brain Initiative, to chat about the role of institutional and implicit biases in the gender inequality in academia.

Jul 2019

22 min 33 sec

Once again the podcast hit to road to meet up with new and old friends to talk all things neuroscience at the 2017 SfN meeting in Washington D.C. This week Misha sat down with Dr. Mark Burns, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Georgetown University, to discuss traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Jun 2019

20 min 46 sec

How do you learn the appropriate response to a fear-inducing stimulus? Misha and Andre are joined on this episode by Dr. Andreas Lüthi, Group Leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel Switzerland to discuss the role of the amygdala in attributing emotional significance to external stimuli and the generation of appropriate responses. Learn more about how Dr. Luthi and are combining new techniques to further dissect how the local circuits within the amygdala allow appropriate responses to be learned.

Jun 2019

25 min 27 sec

On this episode, Michael is joined by former MPFI Post-Baccalaureate Research Experience (PRE) Fellow Amber Luongo and Dr. Hisashi Umemori, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hisashi studies synaptic connections between neurons and how they established, refined and maintained in the nervous system. Learn more about Dr. Hisashi identifies molecules he calls synaptic organizers and the possible translational applications these molecules could have in treating neurological disorders.

May 2019

26 min 44 sec

On this episode, Joe and Misha are joined by Dr. Cris Niell, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Oregon. Learn how Dr. Niell is looking at the effects of meditation in the brain, how he got interested in the visual system of the mouse, the work his lab has done on predatory behavior, and why he’s expanding into the looking at the visual system of the octopus. We’ll also finally answer the age-old question: is it octopuses or octopi?

May 2019

29 min 40 sec

On this episode we’re digging back into the vault to a Spring 2016 conversation Joe, Misha, and Ben had with Dr Carol Mason Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology, Neuroscience and Ophthalmic Science at Columbia University and former Society for Neuroscience President. Topics they’ll cover include the work Dr. Mason’s group is doing looking how the brain wires together during early development, the evolving landscape of neuroscience research over the years, and Dr. Mason’s advice for prospective graduate students.

Apr 2019

50 min 2 sec

What is it that defines us, nature or nurture? Michael and Andre sit down with Liqun Luo, Professor of Biology at Stanford University, to discuss the role of genetics and experience in the development of the brain. As a trained geneticist Dr. Luo uses both flies and mice to investigate the development of the nervous system. Learn more about how the olfactory system differs from other sensory modalities and the genetic tools Dr. Luo is developing and using to help investigate the roles genes play in the construction of neural circuits.

Mar 2019

30 min 35 sec

On this episode of Max Planck Florida's Neurotransmissions Podcast Misha and Paul sit down with Dr. Brenda Bloodgood, assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California San Diego. Hear how Dr. Bloodgood’s path from aspiring undergraduate neuroscientist to professor informs her approach to not only her lab’s research linking gene expression to neural plasticity, but also to her philosophy of teaching and the greater role scientists can play in their communities.

Mar 2019

27 min 31 sec

On this episode of Max Planck Florida's Neurotransmissions Dr. Paul Evans, former Postdoc in the Yasuda lab and current MPFI Academic Programs Coordinator, and Dr. Audrey Bonnan, Postdoc in the Christie lab, are joined by Dr. Claudia Bagni. Dr. Bagni is the Professor and Chair in Fundamental Neuroscience at the University of Lausanne where her group has been studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and their dysfunction in inherited intellectual disabilities. Learn about how Dr. Bagni's research has led her beyond neuroscience into cancer research and how she has pursued opportunities to translate her research from the bench to the clinic. Enjoy!

Mar 2019

33 min 37 sec

Sometimes studying smaller, simpler problems can give us valuable insights into larger, more complex ones. On this episode of Max Planck Florida's Neurotransmissions podcast, Joe and Dan Wilson, former IMPRS student and current postdoc at Harvard, sit down with Janelia Group Leader Dr. Vivek Jayaraman to discuss his circuitous path from aerospace engineering to neuroscience. Learn how the simplest of circuits, the crab stomatogastric ganglion, inspired him to delve deeper into neural networks, and led him to study the fruit fly.

Feb 2019

38 min 29 sec

Can investigating how the neocortex is built further our understanding of the function of the brain? Join Michael and Andre as they sit down with Dr. Oscar Marin, Director and Group Leader at the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at Kings College London to discuss how the brain is built. In a wide-ranging conversation, they explore the components that come together to build the brain, how programmed cell death may contribute to the normal development of the brain, the contribution of developmental disorders to psychiatric disorders, and adult neurogenesis.

Jan 2019

27 min 51 sec

Join Joe and Misha as they survey the neocortex with Dr. Andreas Burkhalter, Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University. As they discuss Dr. Burkhalter's path from studying vision in ants and pigeons to his current work studying rodent neocortex learn about the evolutionary development of neocortex, different theories underpinning sensory processing, the newly found modular organization of the rodent cortex.

Jan 2019

40 min 35 sec

On this podcast, Misha, Joe, and Matthias sit down with Dr. David DiGregorio, group leader of the Dynamic Neuronal Imaging Laboratory at Institut Pasteur, to discuss the cerebellum. From the cerebellum’s role in motor planning to the growing interest in its role in cognitive function, they will explore how Dr. DiGregorio’s model-based approaches are allowing his team to test hypotheses about the cerebellar circuit.

Dec 2018

38 min 41 sec

How does an aspiring poet become one of the pioneers of new model systems for studying the visual cortex? Find out as Joe and Ben sit down with Dr. Michael Stryker, Professor of Physiology at the University of California San Francisco, to chat about his journey through science and how graduate student-mentor relationships have evolved over time.

Dec 2018

44 min 9 sec

Using whole-cell recording techniques, Judith Hirsch investigates how the early visual pathway helps translate the visual world into a coherent perception. Fritz Sommer takes theoretical and computational approaches to understanding the basis of learning and perception in the brain. In our first dual guest podcast, Joe and Ben sit down with Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Sommer, two neuroscientists who work and live at the intersection of experimental and theoretical neuroscience. Together they explore how different approaches can often lead to divisions in thinking, how theoreticians and experimentalists have and can work together, and the current difficulties and hopeful future of data sharing.

Nov 2018

56 min 15 sec

Episode 25: Breaking the diffraction limit with Dr. Stefan Hell How does one go about breaking the laws of physics? On this podcast, Joe, Misha, and Vered sit down with Dr. Stefan Hell to discuss his path to developing super-resolution light microscopy techniques that allow researchers to see details of biology at a scale never before possible. Discover how Dr. Hell was driven to tackle the fundamental limits of resolution for light micrsocopy leading to the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the different approaches taken to super-resolution microscopy, and his new program that is opening up freedom for early career researchers to pursue topics they are passionate about.

Nov 2018

33 min 23 sec

Driven by a lifelong love of music, Rich Mooney's career as a neuroscientist focuses on the circuits that integrate sensory and motor signals in the service of behavior. In a wide ranging interview, Joe, Misha, and Ben sit down with Dr. Mooney to discuss why the songbird is an unparalleled model organism for such a research focus. We also hear about how advances in research tools are leading to a new understanding of how other species integrate motor and auditory signals in the brain, and what this implies about our perception of speech at a philosophical level. Enjoy!

Nov 2018

50 min 24 sec

How neural circuits form the basis of complex natural behaviors is a fundamental question in neuroscience, and from an evolutionary perspective, these circuits enable the survival and reproduction of organisms from generation to generation. In our final live episode from Sunposium 2017, we sit down with two leading experts to discuss their research into behavioral neural mechanisms. First, we talk to Dr. Michael Long from NYU about his work studying vocal communication, and we learn how birdsong and speech can be studied in complementary ways to gain new insights into motor behaviors. We then talk to Dr. David Anderson from Caltech about his work studying the neural basis emotion. He describes how the brain is able to generate internal states that regulate behaviors such as fear and aggression, and how he is able to study these behaviors in both mice and flies to make use of diverse and complementary techniques.

Jan 2018

33 min 35 sec

To advance our understanding of the nervous system, we need to know how to ask the right questions about the structure and function of neural circuits. This is often facilitated by new techniques for recording, imaging, and manipulating neural activity. In this episode, we return to our series of interviews from MPFI’s 2017 Sunposium conference. We sit down with Dr. Ed Boyden from MIT and Dr. Viviana Gradinaru from Cal Tech (2016 Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award), two leading innovators in the field, to explore the intersection of tool development and experimental neurobiology.

Jan 2018

36 min 24 sec

"Where are we and where are we going?" Our sense of where we are in the world is one of the most fundamental cognitive elements of our day-to-day lives, and the discovery of our brain's internal system for mapping our physical location is one of the landmark achievements of modern neuroscience. In this episode we sit down Dr. Edvard Moser, one of the three recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work discovering the neural computation of our brain's internal "GPS" system. We discuss the organization of this system, as well as many of the mysteries that remain unsolved in understanding the functional circuits involved in forming a neural representation of space.

Nov 2017

42 min 19 sec

Live from West Palm Beach, it's Sunposium 2017! Here is Part 1 in a series of conversations we had at MPFI's Sunposium Conference, which is a biennial scientific meeting featuring talks from many renowned names in neuroscience. Misha and Joe sat down with Dr. Thomas Südhof, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on synaptic vesicle trafficking, to discuss the importance of scientific research in society. Enjoy!

Sep 2017

16 min 46 sec