The 20 McGovern “rising stars,” each from one of 20 labs — include two HST students — who are deemed to represent the future of neuroscience.

The cutting-edge work of the McGovern Institute depends not only on our stellar line up of faculty, but the more than 400 postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, summer students, and staff who make up our community. This year, which marks the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the institute, we are highlighting the work of some of our young scientists. They are brilliant, innovative, and driven. Their passion for neuroscience is contagious.

These 20 McGovern “rising stars” — each from one of our 20 labs — represent the future of neuroscience. This list includes two HST students: Nicolas Meirhaeghe, an HST Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) PhD student, and Quique Toloza, an MD-PhD student in the HST MD program and MIT Physics PhD program. The MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) is HST’s home at MIT:

Nicholas Meirhaeghe: Jazayeri Lab

Imagine tossing a ping pong ball into the air with one hand and catching it with the other. After practicing it a few times, imagine doing it again with your eyes closed. There’s a good chance you’ll catch the ball, even without looking at it. This is the type of oddity Nicolas Meirhaeghe studies as a graduate student in Mehrdad Jazayeri’s lab.

In particular, he tries to understand how information coming from the outside world through our senses gets combined with our internal expectations when we practice the same movement over and over again. He also studies how complex patterns of neural activity change when inexperienced individuals progressively turn into experts, and learn to rely less on what they see, and more on what they expect.

Quique Toloza: Harnett Lab

Quique Toloza studied physics, biology and Spanish literature in college, but it was a series of neuroscience classes that really ignited his imagination.

“Using tools developed to solve problems in physics is a beautiful way to study the rich behaviors and emergent dynamics of the brain. I think that’s the coolest natural phenomenon you could possibly study.”

Quique has since found his niche as a graduate student in Mark Harnett’s lab studying the powerful processing capabilities of individual neurons — specifically dendrites, the elaborate tree-like branching structures that receive signals from other neurons.

His computational models, combined with experiments performed in the lab, are revealing how the complex calculations made by individual dendrites contribute to the unique computational power of the human brain. While he draws heavily from his background in physics, two secret ingredients also power his work: black metal (the music, not the material) and light-saber battles with his lab mates.

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