Photo of smiling male undergraduate student Benjamin Midler.
2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Program Participant and 2022 Cohort Lead

Home Department: Psychology
Mentor: Shaul Druckmann (Neurobiology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences)

2021 Research Project: “Computational Investigation of Drosophila Navigation”

Navigation is a key component of animal behavior. Vital for navigation computation is path integration (the ability to generate an online estimate of current position with respect to both a goal and the point of embarkment). How neural circuits implement path integration is unknown. Since Drosophila offer a suite of genetic tools, such as imaging and perturbation, along with detailed circuit mapping, they constitute an unrivaled opportunity to develop a mechanistic understanding of path integration. Benjamin is synthesizing calcium imaging recordings and circuit maps into a mathematical description of path integration.

2022 Research Project: “Decoding Higher-Order Neural Representations of Navigation”

Navigation is a core neural function that integrates sensory input with internal states to produce a motor output. While progress has been made towards understanding the sensory and mechanical aspects of navigation, it is unknown how self-conception integrates with navigational processes. The default mode network (DMN) is a system of brain structures associated with self-referential thinking. With respect to navigation, the DMN is believed to be vital for integrating self-conception with neural representations of space to produce a goal-congruent motor output. This project hopes to clarify the relationship between self-conception and the neural representation of space through neural recordings from mice DMN performing a VR navigation task.