Hi, my name is Maddie Ray, and I am a proud cat mom and neuroscientist originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I did my undergraduate at Kansas State University where I majored in Psychology. While at K-State, I fell in love with neuroscience through a course on drugs and behavior. This course propelled me to join a behavioral neuroscience research lab where I had the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate. In this lab, I studied the neural mechanisms involved in goal directed learning, and the effects of alcohol consumption on this type of learning. It was this first research experience in college that made me realize my passion for research, which ultimately shaped me into the neuroscientist I am today.
I am currently a third year PhD student at Boston College, where I study the role of the nucleus accumbens core in rapid, accurate scaling of fear. The nucleus accumbens is an area of the brain located in the forebrain. It is popularly known for its role in reward, which often overshadows its role in aversive learning. There are many different types of cells in this area, but my focus is on just a small portion of these cells called gad1 neurons. These gad1 neurons are inhibitory, meaning that when they are activated they inhibit other neurons they are connected with.
My current work uses techniques such as single unit recordings and optogenetics in combination with transgenic rat lines. One of my favorite parts of this work is the histology that takes place at the end of experiments. Histology, which is the anatomical study of cells and tissues, allows me to visualize the fluorescent tagged viruses, proteins, and mRNA that are of interest to my work. These fluorescent tagged neurons provide such beautiful images, that I quickly started booking extra time on our microscope just to take images that I didn’t necessarily need for my dissertation, but that I wanted for my personal collection.
While I’ve always loved and appreciated art, I had never thought of myself as an artist until recently, since I am extremely inept at all traditional art forms. Science has allowed me to bring art into the lab, and the microscope is my preferred art tool. This has ultimately allowed me to enjoy and share my love of neuroscience and art — two things I previously thought were dichotomous — in an integrative manner.
I’d like to thank my incredible advisor Dr. Michael McDannald for not only supporting this work, but also supporting and encouraging me throughout the past three years. Thank you to Dr. Gorica Petrovich, Dr. Charles Pickens, and Dr. Mary Cain for propelling and encouraging my passion for neuroscience and art. Thank you to Alyssa Russ for technical support. Thank you to Bret Judson and the Boston College Imaging Core for infrastructure and support. This work was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse DA034010 awarded to Dr. Michael McDannald.