Ellie Heckscher, PhD
Ellie got her ScB in Biology from Brown University in Providence, RI. At Brown, she studied heart development in the lab of John Coleman. Next, Ellie worked as a research assistant in Alex Schier’s lab at NYU’s Skirball Institute. In the Schier lab, she studied the early development of zebrafish embryos. Ellie then got a Ph.D. from UCSF in the lab of Graeme Davis. In the Davis lab, she used the Drosophila larval neuromuscular system to study the effects of immune molecules on synaptic structure and function. Ellie took a year off from research to teach full-time as an Instructor of Biology at Dickinson College, a small liberal arts college in central PA. For her postdoc, Ellie moved to Eugene, OR to work with Chris Q Doe. In the Doe lab, she worked to develop the Drosophila larvae into a system that could be used to study the development and function of motor circuits. From 2015-2023, Ellie was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at The University of Chicago. In 2023, she was promoted to Associate Professor. A former collegiate fencer, Ellie enjoys spending time with her family, poking about the shores of Lake Michigan, and traveling to new places.
Hear more about Ellie’s journey in academia in this podcast episode! [Youtube, Spotify]
Chris Wreden, PhD
PhD in Pharmacology
As a California native, Chris obtained his bachelor’s in Pharmacology from UC Santa Barbara before joining the Strickland Lab at SUNY Stonybrook for his PhD. After a stint as a postdoc in the Edwards Lab at UCSF, Chris transitioned to lab manager positions at the Reimer (Stanford), Voglmaier (UCSF), and Guillemin (Oregon) labs. He has been with the Heckscher Lab since it opened in 2015. Outside of work, Chris enjoys cooking, baking, and ultimate frisbee. He’s also the lab’s resident plant whisperer.
Deeptha Vasudevan, PhD
PhD in Neurobiology and Anatomy
Current research focus: Development of diverse sensorimotor circuits along the anterior-posterior axis.
As a graduate student, Deeptha studied neuronal regeneration and circuit repair in a zebrafish model of spinal cord injury. As a postdoc in the Heckscher Lab, she investigates developmental strategies that similar sets of neural stem cells use to produce different circuits in different anterior-posterior regions of the larval Drosophila nerve cord. Outside of the lab, she is involved in several outreach programs and serves as a scientific liaison on the Community Advisory Board of Chicago’s public radio station. She also enjoys hiking in national parks, biking along the lakefront, reading, and exploring Chicago.
PhD Candidate in Neurobiology
BS in Biology, Minor in Environmental Studies
Current research focus: In-depth behavioral characterization of larval crawling.
Marie joined the Heckscher lab in 2018 to study larval locomotor behavior. She is interested in how larval crawling differs across strides and between individuals, and what those differences tell us about larval motor control strategies. Before grad school, in the Schoppik Lab at NYU Medical Center, she studied how birth timing organizes the development of zebrafish motor neurons. And even longer ago, in the Wilson Lab at Haverford College, she researched fern leaf evolution. Marie still loves leaves, walking around Chicago to look at said leaves, playing video games, and making art in many forms!
PhD Candidate in DRSB
BS in Biology
Current research focus: Development of neuronal lineages in sensorimotor processing circuits and the diversification of sibling neurons due to differential expression of guidance genes.
Jake grew up in Spartanburg, SC, and graduated in 2016 from Bates College in Lewiston, ME. As an undergrad, Jake studied the developmental regulation of reactive oxygen species via the aryl hydrocarbon receptor family genes in zebrafish. Afterward, he joined the Goessling Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA to study liver regeneration and pancreatic cancer using zebrafish as a disease model. Jake joined the Heckscher Lab in 2019 and is currently interested in how neurons in the central nervous system, born from the same stem cell, are diversified to obtain unique neuronal morphologies and process different sensory stimuli. Outside the lab, Jake enjoys playing video games and TTRPGs, reading fantasy and science fiction books, and running along the lake shore.
PhD Candidate in Neurobiology
BA in Biology & PNP (Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology)
Current Research Focus: Transcriptional and epigenetic diversification as a result of temporal patterning in sibling somatosensory-processing interneurons.
Zarion joined the Heckscher Lab in 2020 and is currently interested in how neurons, born from the same neural stem cell, adopt unique molecular programs from birth to instruct mature cellular identities and distinct circuit functions. Previously, Zarion worked as a research technician in the Heckscher Lab from 2016-2020 and became interested in how a single transcription factor can endow neurons with the capacity to process stimuli and properly integrate them into circuits. Before coming to UChicago, he graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2016. There, he studied the effects of the sleep-promoting drug, Gaboxadol, and its site of action in the adult fruit fly brain. As a Chicagoland native, he grew up in Villa Park, IL. For fun that doesn’t include experiments or playing with his daughters, Zarion likes to play video games, basketball, and explore the many neighborhoods of Chicago.
PhD Student in DRSB
BS in Biology
Current research focus: Evolution of neural stem cell lineages.
As an undergraduate at Loyola University Chicago, Sam studied zebrafish craniofacial and notochord development with Dr. Rodney Dale. After graduation, she teched in Dr. Yoel Stuart’s lab where she used stickleback and squamate lizards to study rates and repeatability of evolution. Sam joined the Heckscher Lab in 2022 to study how neural stem cell lineages are modified by evolution. When not in the lab, Sam enjoys cooking, crafting, hiking, and biking.
PhD Student in Neurobiology
BS in Neuroscience, AB in Evolutionary Anthropology
Current research focus: Motor circuit evolution across Diptera, beginning with morphological analyses of muscle fibers.
Annika grew up in Bangalore, India, and graduated from Duke University in 2020. As an undergraduate, she studied neuropeptide modulation of social behavior and mating systems in lemurs with Dr. Christine Drea. Then, she briefly worked with Dr. Jenna McHenry on mapping ovarian-to-brain neuronal pathways in mice. Having recently joined the Heckscher Lab, Annika is excited to investigate the diversity of body wall motor circuitry in maggots to derive evolutionary principles of motor circuit evolution. Outside of the lab, she is involved in efforts to improve international graduate student resources and support. She also enjoys exploring new brunch spots, sunrises at the lakefront, jigsaw puzzles, college basketball & the WNBA, and web design. She has a beagle back home named Cinnamon who is mostly good and whom she misses very much.
Current research focus: Motor circuit development based on differential transcription factor activation; evolution of Dipteran larval body plans.
Bianca is a fourth year studying Developmental Biology and Psychology, and she joined the Heckscher lab in Fall 2020. Her thesis is on the role of Notch signaling in motor circuit development in Drosophila. She has also worked on projects characterizing sensorimotor circuits across the order Diptera, including a literature search for hundreds of larval body plans and a comparison of crawling behavior in four different Dipteran species. Previously, she studied mollusk diversity at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and participated in leading community education programs at the museum. In her free time, she plays guitar and club rugby.
While pursuing a B.S. in Neuroscience at UChicago, Nicolas has recently discovered an unexplored passion for developmental biology during his time in the Heckscher Lab. He wishes to study gene expression patterns during development in Even-skipped Lateral interneurons as he broadens his profound passion for biology. He is also interested in ecotourism (he is an international student from Colombia, a megabiodiverse country), anthropology, and STEM outreach to underrepresented Latinx communities. In the wild, you can find him listening to his 80s playlist, religiously watching Last Week Tonight and Vox , arguing (quite emphatically) about why romcoms are great, and more recently, debating semantics with his mentor, Zarion Marshall.
Grace is a second-year studying Neuroscience and Public Policy. After taking several classes last year, she became interested in developmental biology which she’s exploring further at the Heckscher Lab. She hopes to study how neural circuits are formed, and the strategies involved in differentiating them during development. She’s also very interested in climate resiliency and sustainable design, having grown up in coastal cities before coming to the midwest. In her free time, she does graphic design for MODA magazine, plans events with the Major Activity Board, and promotes sustainability on campus with the Phoenix Sustainability Initiative.
Julia Meng, PhD, former graduate student (2017-2022), now a postdoctoral fellow in David Lyons’ lab at the University of Edinburgh
Yiwen Yang, PhD, former post-doctoral researcher (2018-2020), now a medical writer in Taiwan
Elise Paniel, former Masters of Genetics student from University of Paris, Diderot, now at Imagine Institute of Genetic Diseases (Paris, France)
Yiqin Gao, former undergraduate thesis researcher, now a technician in Mala Murthy’s lab at Princeton University
Juan Zuniga, former undergraduate thesis researcher, now a technician in Raunak Sinha’s lab at the University of Wisconsin—Madison
Hannah Carr, former undergraduate thesis researcher, now a medical student at UChicago
Katie Bell, former undergraduate thesis researcher, now a graduate student at the University of Southern California
Other former undergraduates: