Professor Geng-Lin Li teaches and does research at UMass Amherst. He grew up in Anhui Province, China and got his Bachelor’s degree at Beijing Normal University and his PhD at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Li has always been interested in math and physics, but found himself studying Biology as an Undergrad in Beijing. When we met in his lab Professor Li recounted to me his dislike of some subjects and absolute frustration at having to identify various types of leaves at school. Luckily, he was able to get into the field of Neuroscience, specifically Neurophysiology, using his knowledge of biology and his natural talent in mathematics and physics to study the hard science behind our brain functions and the messages that our brains send.
Professor Li will be co-teaching the summer program “Understanding Your Brain” with Professor Ulises Ricoy of Northern New Mexico College. Students who enroll in this program will have the opportunity to learn about Neuroscience from lectures in the morning and practice what they’ve learned in the lab in the afternoon. In the lab, students will use invertebrate animals such as earthworms and crickets to test and further understand connections between neurons, networks formed by neurons, and how we can disrupt and manipulate these networks. Students will give the animal a stimulation (such as drugs or chemicals) and record the combined signal from a group of neurons within the animal. This will help students understand how certain chemicals (like coffee or alcohol) can influence our brains. Students should expect to be working with a Backyard Brains Neuron SpikerBox (pictured below), which connects to an iPhone or computer to read signals from neuron groups.
This summer pre-college program is a great choice for high school students who are interested in hard sciences. In the words for Professor Li, “we won’t teach them to be neuroscientists, but we will show them the steps they must take to get there”. This program is a great way to familiarize yourself with working in a lab and to get a sense of what it will take to be a neuroscientist. Whether you are decided on a career in science, or just curious, this program will give you the hands-on experience you need to find out whether lab research is for you. There will be three graduate students working in the lab as well and they will be willing and excited to help anyone who needs it, so all students will be able to learn all they can and get the guidance they may need to do so.
In his lab, Professor Li researches communication between neurons. This work has implications in memory (manipulation of neural pathways can help us erase or embed memory) and on our senses such as hearing and touch (Professor Li is working to improve temporal precision of the auditory system). The research that Professor Li is doing is new, exciting, and complex. His lab works tirelessly to help us further understand and control our brains. If that sounds like something you want to be a part of, this is the summer experience for you!!
If you want to learn more about what it’s like to work in Professor Li’s lab, check out this post by Augustina Amoako, a student in the STEM Ambassader program here at UMass. If you want to know more about the work Dr. Li does, check out some of his publications here !