Mark Laubach is a new associate professor in the Department of Biology.
PhD neuroscience, Wake Forest University
MA biology, Bryn Mawr College
AB biology and chemistry, Lafayette College
Areas of research
Role of the frontal cortex and basal ganglia in value-based decision making, food-seeking behavior, and the cognitive control of action
What initially sparked your interest in neurobiology?
"I grew up during the computer revolution. Many people used to think that brain function can be explained using principles from computer science. I have never been convinced of that and spent my career trying to understand how our brains allow us to act flexibly in face of unexpected outcomes, something that computers are not very good at doing."
What honed your interest to your specific areas of research?
"I started graduate school when it became possible to record the activity of many brain cells at the same time. My PhD advisor developed one of the first multi-electrode recording systems. A major challenge for using these systems was what to do with all of the data. I learned multivariate statistics so I could analyze what is now called "Big Data" and tried to understand how populations of neurons control behavior and change with learning. This approach has stuck with me for the rest of my career."
What brought you to AU?
"Several reasons. First, I was drawn to the chance to work with Terry Davidson and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Terry is an amazing researcher and wonderful person. There are many parallels in our work and I look forward to collaborating with Terry in the near future. Second, I have been at a medical school for the past 13 years and had limited interactions with undergraduate students. I am very much looking forward to teaching courses for the new neuroscience major and hosting students for research in my lab. I never had the chance to do this as much as I had hoped when I first started my lab back in 2001. Third, I have always had a wonderful impression of AU based on a friend who attended the university back in the 1980s. Since I have arrived on campus, everything has matched my expectations. People are uniformly nice and happy. A very cordial and supportive environment. Deans Starr and Sofia have developed a strong science community on campus. They and their staffs have done an outstanding job supporting me during my transition to AU. I believe that this is going to be a wonderful experience for me and I can not wait to get started!"
What are you hoping to accomplish at AU?
"I am looking forward to taking part in the development of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and helping bring international recognition to the Center throughout the neuroscience community. I am also looking forward to helping launch the new neuroscience major and seeing the first majors graduate in a few years and go on to productive careers in science and medicine. Finally, I very much looking forward to new directions in my research, such as the large-scale deployment of optogenetic methods to study neural circuits that underlie decision making, that have only been possible with the support that I have received from AU."