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Chad Heer, Ph.D.

Cell Biology and Physiology


University of Chicago


Toshihide Hige


Before coming to UNC, I completed my Ph.D. in Neurobiology from The University of Chicago under Dr. Mark Sheffield. There, I combined calcium imaging, genetic techniques, and behavioral approaches to investigate the role of dopaminergic inputs to the hippocampus in spatial navigation and episodic memory. My work revealed distinct activity dynamics between ventral tegmental area (VTA) and locus coeruleus (LC) inputs to the hippocampus, indicating roles for these inputs in hippocampal encoding of rewarded environments and novel environments respectively. Through my PhD, I developed a passion for carefully combining behavioral analysis with recordings of neural activity to dissect neural circuits underlying different behaviors. It also provided me with opportunities to teach and mentor talented undergraduates in the classroom and lab settings, helping me confirm my desire to educate others and make neuroscience research more accessible. At UNC I will be working under Dr. Toshi Hige to continue investigating how specific neural circuits influence learning and behavior, but in Drosophila melanogaster. My research will use calcium imaging, electrophysiology, genetic approaches, and behavioral analyses to determine the role of neural circuits in the mushroom body of Drosophila in olfactory learning. As a SPIRE scholar, I am excited for the opportunities to integrate research and teaching, develop as scientist and educator, and teach and inspire the next generation of scientists.