Ziam Han

Major: Biology
Minor: Bioinformatics


Title:The Effect of Neuronal Network Plasticity and Refinement in Drosophila melanogaster

Nociceptors are sensory neurons that fire in response to sharp pain or heat, but unstimulating firing has also been observed in developing drosophila neuronal networks. We are investigating whether the frequency of this firing could play a role in signaling a synapse to be pruned.

Who is your mentor(s) for your project?
My mentor is Dr. Fernando Vonhoff from the Biology Department. I used to study in the lab break room with some friends who worked on that floor of the Biology Building. I knew some people who were familiar with Dr. Vonhoff’s work and the projects lined up quite well with my interests. The same friends told me how Dr. Vonhoff provided excellent guidance and freedom to those working under him and so I asked if there was anything I could do for the lab.

How did you become interested in this project?
I had previously done some neuroscience research and this project allowed me to not only work on investigating pruning at the scale of a single synapse but also more macro topics such as refinement of a developing neuronal network as a whole.

What has been the hardest part about your research/what was the most unexpected thing about being a researcher?
The hardest part of this project has been the day to day collection of data. It can be repetitive, but it takes a long time to investigate something substantial.

What has been the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part has been learning new skills and being able to use them to further the project. There is a real feeling of being a part of the neuroscience community when you can perform an experiment that you’ve read in a paper and then actually use that data. 

How will you disseminate your research?
Hopefully, we will have something to publish soon and I plan to present at the Spring URCAD event.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
I would tell them to read around a good bit to make sure you are interested in the work that you’ll be doing. It is also equally, if not more, important that you find a mentor who you will enjoy working with and who has the time to guide you. As far as getting into a lab, simply send out as many emails as it takes for someone to invite you in for an interview. It might take a month or two but there are so many opportunities on campus to get involved in research.

What are your career goals?
I hope to become a physician.


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