A computer simulation displaying a map of sensory space within the brain. While maps of sensory space are ubiquitous in the brain, computer simulations can be used to study the map formation problem. In the figure, color indicates the orientation turning preference of each neuron; gray lines highlight the distortion between the physical neuron locations of the brain surface and the location of the cell’s preferred stimulus in the visual field (colored dot). Figure provided by Rishabh Jain. (Mel Lab)

A perfect image of a drosophila brain staining. Image provided by Hui Yang. (Dickman Lab)

(Neuroscience Graduate students Chien-Hua Wang-rear and Anna Kamitakahara – foreground) together with postdoc Karine Bouyer, PhD. (Simerly Lab)

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife’s Brain and Creativity Institute, is particularly interested in social emotions that promote learning, motivation and resilience, such as compassion, admiration and inspiration. Photo by Steve Cohn.

Functional activation of dorsal striatum (d-CPu) and rostral secondary motor cortex (rostral M2) are attenuated after dopaminergic deafferentation of the d-CPu and are augmented by 4 weeks of exercise training (ET). (Holschneider Lab)

xE15 Motor Neuron Development: The Shh signaling pathway functions in a time- and concentration-dependent manner to specify ventral neural cell types within the developing central nervous system. (McMahon Lab)


Students and faculty in the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program study questions spanning the entire spectrum of modern neuroscience research. Key questions include:

  • how do molecules work together in time and space to build functioning nerve cells?
  • how do individual neurons and their interconnections lead to the emergent properties of neural circuits?
  • how do the information processing functions of neural circuits lead to complex behaviors, memories, emotions, and thought?

Departing from the traditional focus on individual disciplines, USC Neuroscience is characterized by collaborative interactions between faculty and students working at many different levels of analysis, including research on cell-molecular neurobiology, systems-level analysis of neural circuits, neural engineering, and cognitive and computational neuroscience.

When combined with a varied curriculum, weekly seminars, an annual graduate student symposium, and an extremely active neuroscience graduate student forum, the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program provides a highly inter-disciplinary and supportive training experience designed to prepare students for a variety of successful careers.

February 8, 2014

Engaging Professor

USC Dornsife’s Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is awarded for her success in engaging with the wider community on the issues and importance of neuroscience.

By Andrea Bennett
January 8, 2014

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of USC Dornsife emphasized the importance of getting the public interested in the sciences: "We do this work ultimately so that it can benefit society." Photo by Dietmar Quistorf.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of USC Dornsife emphasized the importance of getting the public interested in the sciences: “We do this work ultimately so that it can benefit society.” Photo by Dietmar Quistorf.


Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of USC Dornsife’ Brain and Creativity Institute has received the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Early Career Award for Public Engagement With Science and Technology.

An assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife with a joint appointment at the USC Rossier School of Education, Immordino-Yang’s research focuses on the neuroscience of social emotion, self-awareness and culture. She is dedicated to encouraging the education community and the general public to think about and understand neuroscience, and to using neuroscience research to better society.

Immordino-Yang said she was grateful that AAAS promotes the visibility and integrity of science and for its focus on scientific education.

“Science is mainly funded by the public, and we do this work ultimately so that it can benefit society,” Immordino-Yang said. “For me, engaging teachers and parents in thinking about affective and social brain development serves a double purpose: I have the opportunity to think together with educators about how the scientific findings can be used to innovate in schools. And interacting with practitioners’ practical perspectives often pushes me to think about what research is still needed, where scientific theories lose explanatory power and the implications for my future work.”

Immordino-Yang has authored numerous essays for teachers explaining findings from her research. Her essays have been disseminated to K-12 schools worldwide. She also gives monthly talks to teachers, parents, administrators and superintendents. Since 2006, she has taught an annual four-day residential course for teachers on neuroscience.

The course, which will be hosted in Miami this year, informs teachers about neuroscientific research and helps K-12 teachers develop classroom curriculum. She also helped develop an online master’s-level course for educators based on her workshops, funded by the Annenberg Learner Foundation, which was used by more than 17,000 individuals around the world in 2012, its first year.

Immordino-Yang makes it a priority to reach out to the public. In October, for example, she delivered the Ellbogen Symposium keynote speech at the University of Wyoming, delivered lectures and taught classes for pre-service teachers, and met with state lawmakers.

In addition, she spoke at a public Montessori preschool, taught a sixth grade science class and gave a public television interview on how questions and issues in neuroscience and education can inform one another.

Immordino-Yang is passionate about getting K-12 students interested in the neuroscience of social emotion. She has taught classes on the topic at several grade levels and has invited classes from urban schools to her lab to observe neuroimaging. Among other outreach efforts, each summer, Immordino-Yang hosts three local high school students from among the least advantaged schools in the city for internships.

A member of the USC Dornsife Neuroscience Graduate Program faculty, she also leads a $600,000 National Science Foundation Career-funded study involving the influence of community violence on brain and social growth. Focusing on three Los Angeles high schools, she studies the ways in which social emotions, self-identity and inspiration about one’s future develop neurobiologically and psychosocially among adolescents, and the role of culture in fostering health and resilience.

She will accept the AAAS award at the association’s annual meeting in Chicago on Feb. 14.

The AAAS seeks to “advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” Its goals include enhancing communication among scientists, engineers and the public, promoting and defending the integrity of science and its use, and fostering education in science and technology.

Comments Off

December 2, 2013

Worth Crowing About

By Robert Perkins

USC Dornsife’s Jennifer Achiro, a neuroscience doctoral student in Sarah Bottjer’s laboratory, is first author on a songbird study that could lead to better treatment of language disorders in children.


USC Dornsife scientists have discovered a population of neurons in the brains of juvenile songbirds that are necessary for allowing the birds to recognize the vocal sounds they are learning to imitate.

These neurons encode a memory of learned vocal sounds and form a crucial (and hitherto only theorized) part of the neural system that allows songbirds to hear, imitate and learn its species’ songs — just as human infants acquire speech sounds.

The discovery will allow scientists to uncover the exact neural mechanisms that allow songbirds to hear their own self-produced songs, compare them to the memory of the song that they are trying to imitate and then adjust their vocalizations accordingly.

Because this brain-behavior system is thought to be a model for how human infants learn to speak, understanding it could prove crucial to future understanding and treatment of language disorders in children. In both songbirds and humans, feedback of self-produced vocalizations is compared to memorized vocal sounds and progressively refined to achieve a correct imitation.

Read More

Comments Off

View all news