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Section on Neural Function

Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Benjamin White, Ph.D. Benjamin White, Ph.D.

Dr. White studied physics and mathematics at the University of Oregon (Honors College) as an undergraduate, but a long-standing fascination with the brain and how it generates things like thoughts, feelings, and behavior took him to graduate school in neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis. After pursuing postdoctoral research at Yale University, Dr. White came to NIMH where he started the Section on Neural Function (AKA, the White Lab) in 2002. His laboratory’s interest in the circuit-level organization of the fruit fly brain is guided by the desire to understand how a simple “mind” makes sense of its world, makes decisions, and takes meaningful action.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Amicia Devin Elliott, PhDAmicia Devin Elliott, Ph.D.

Amy is a PRAT fellow studying the neuromodulatory control of behavior in the fruit fly. She completed her Ph.D. in molecular physiology and biophysics at Vanderbilt University, where her primary focus was studying the role of paracrine factors in the glucose-dependent inhibition of glucagon secretion from pancreatic alpha cells. She also developed methodologies for studying, simultaneously, calcium and cAMP signaling in live cells using real-time hyperspectral imaging. Working between the White lab and the NIBIB laboratory of Dr. Hari Shroff, Amy has built a light-sheet microscope from scratch that she is currently using to study the neural substrates of pupal ecdysis behavior. Her project exploits the advanced genetics of the Drosophila model system with novel microscopy and computational biology methods to analyze brain-wide activity at cellular resolution.

Luis Sullivan, Ph.D.Luis Sullivan, Ph.D.

Luis completed a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Oregon. Under the mentorship of Chris Q. Doe, he discovered how neuronal circuits used for navigation in adult Drosophila were assembled during development. In the White Lab, he is investigating how simple brains adapt to changing demands during animal development. He is using a combination of transcriptomics, imaging, and behavioral analyses to determine how conserved neuronal circuits change to execute different behaviors necessary for growth and maturation, using the ecdysis neural network of Drosophila as a model system. When not focused on research, Luis enjoys romping around various parks in Washington D.C. with his dog Bailey.

Postbaccalaureate Fellows

Princess Felix, BSPrincess Felix, B.S.

Princess received her B.S. in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan. As an undergraduate, she worked with Dr. Michael Wang at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare center to identify proteins relevant to the unique physiology and pathophysiology of the human cerebrovasculature. The publication describing this work can be found here: PLOS ONE. In the White lab, Princess is interested in understanding the brain circuitry in Drosophila that promotes eclosion. Princess plans to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of individuals through research and teaching.

Matthew Barker, BSMatthew Barker, B.S.

Matt graduated from the University of Montana in 2019 with a degree in Biology and a focus in Genetics and Evolution. At Montana, he assisted in Dr. Michael Minnick’s microbiology laboratory where he helped analyze the Caenorhabditis elegans innate immune response to Coxiella Burnetii, an intracellular pathogen. He was also a member of the University of Montana cross-country and track teams. In the White lab, Matt is using the recently developed SpaRCLIn method to map the neural circuits involved in eclosion. Matt plans to pursue a neuroscience and enjoys spending time outdoors.

Richard Vuong, B.S.Richard Vuong, B.S.

Richard graduated in 2020 from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (honors college) with a B.S. in Neuroscience and a minor in Psychology. At UTK, he was captain of the club tennis team and worked for all four years in the neurogenetics laboratory of Dr. Jae H. Park. His honors senior thesis focused on drosulfakinin, the fruit fly homolog of mammalian cholecystokinin. In the White lab, he is studying how the pupal fly brain generates an innate behavioral sequence. Richard is currently applying to medical school with the goal of using his medical education to combine neurology and public health.


Haojiang Luan, MD, PhDHaojiang Luan, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Haojiang Luan received his M.D. from XinXiang Medical College in 1995 and his Ph.D. in Endocrinology from the Peking Union Medical College of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in 2001. As a postdoctoral fellow in the White lab, he developed the Split Gal4 system and pursued his interest in neuronal circuits underlying animal behavior. After working at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus for two years, Haojiang returned to the White lab as a Staff Scientist where he continues to pioneer novel techniques for targeting transgene expression to small sets of neurons in the fly nervous system.

Fengqiu Diao, PhDFengqiu Diao, Ph.D.

Fengqiu received his Ph. D. degree in Developmental Biology from the Institute of Developmental Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1999. During postdoctoral training with Dr. Susan Tsunoda, Fengqiu gained a deep appreciation for Drosophila as a research model. Since 2006 he has worked in the White Lab, where he has spearheaded the development of techniques for cell-type-specific transgene targeting—most notably the Trojan Exon technique—which he has been applying to mapping the neural circuitry underlying wing expansion behaviors.

Robert L. Scott, MSRobert L. Scott, M.S.

Rob graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1997. He got his start in Drosophila research as a summer intern at NIH and earned a Master’s degree in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University in 2003. He has worked as a technician in the White Lab since 2012. With over 20 years of experience working on the fly, Rob is the guy who keeps everything running in the lab and still finds time to do his own experiments.


Postdoctoral Fellows

Haojiang Luan
William Lemon
Nathan Peabody
Fengqiu Diao
Sudipta Saraswati
Sarah Naylor
Elyssa Burg
Feici Diao

Postbaccalaureate Fellows

  • Paul Zelensky
  • Jascha Pohl
  • Andrew Vreede
  • Patricia Grace
  • Juhi Shukla
  • Michael Syme
  • Isaac Dripps
  • William Shropshire
  • Rebecca Vaadia
  • Brianna Waller
  • Matthew Roberts
  • Sarav Shah
  • Sanghoon (James) Park
  • Andrew Lazarchik
  • Glennis Muldoon
  • Adama Berndt
  • Matthew Houpert

Summer Students/Rotating Graduate Students

Halyn Nielsen
Howard Wang
Kevin HoWan
Sarrah Ben Achour
Sherry Liu
Daniel Yasoshima
Abhilash Potluri
Daniel Konzman
Jiaili Zhang
Abraham Arzola