Student Profile Archives

Edward ChengEdward Cheng

The ancients once believed that the heart was the domicile of the soul, that the inexorable beats propelled the vital humours through our sinews, endowing us with humanity. While physiologists going back to Vesalius have completely disproved this romantic Aristotelian notion, those inexorable beats of life, and the catastrophes that ensue when they are no longer, held deep fascination for an aspiring physician scientist as I sat through two years of interminably dry medical school lectures before pursuing my thesis. While it is easy to dismiss the heart as a simple mechanical pump governed by the primordial autonomic drives, as it was sometimes taught in my undergraduate bioengineering courses, its complexity and elegance can only be revealed using the approaches of classic physiology-quantitative, hypothesis driven experiments that seek to understand the intricate clockwork of the heart in situ. I joined the Santana lab in the Physiology and Biophysics Department because I get to apply the latest techniques in electrophysiology and imaging to answer some of these classic problems in physiology; for example, how does the excitation-contraction machinery maintains the fidelity that exceeds those of the finest Swiss timepiece, and how this finely tuned mechanism fails in pathophysiology.

The pursuit of science is a road filled with moments of triumph and deep despair; however, the occasional moments of despair are somewhat ameliorated by the beauty of Seattle and its numerous diversions. When I was deciding between different institutions to pursue my MD-PhD degree, I chose Seattle partly because it is one of the few cities where a graduate student does not have to be cloistered in a dank closet of an apartment like a medieval monk, nor does he or she have to be a hermit, away from the allures of civilization. The other, less trivial factor, was that the University of Washington and Seattle offer an intellectually stimulating environment where one, fueled by El Diablo Espresso and Manny’s Pale Ale, can truly mature intellectually.


Ryan EatonRyan Eaton

Reading the profiles of my senior classmates, I prefer those that convey personality. I, myself, am of the "just-the-facts-ma'am" mentality so I describe myself here accordingly. I grew up in a small town in northern California and studied physics at UC Davis. Lack of opportunity in the high-energy physics field and my increasing fascination with information processing in neurobiology motivated my shift to neuroscience, having convinced myself (naïvely) my background in physics would be an asset. For the next three years I toiled as a research assistant at Oregon Health and Science University using transcranial magnetic stimulation to evaluate disease progression in patients with movement disorders (Parkinson's disease, essential tremor and ALS). Through research assistantship I gained skills and patience to carry out experiments, but I longed for more theory and wanted to design experiments to address my own inquiries. Graduate school was in the cards for me.

I researched many neuroscience graduate programs and the Department of Physiology & Biophysics (PBio) at the University of Washington stood out among the lot. The diversity and caliber of research described in the faculty profiles impressed me most of all. Within a few minutes of digging I had already found several labs researching topics overlapping my somewhat scattered interest in neuroscience. My interview experience only strengthened my impression: faculty and students were enthusiastic and welcoming, I met four of the seven of my incoming class that weekend and many of us became good friends. Coursework proved both challenging and relevant. I rotated through labs of Fetz (explored attractor dynamics in neural network models of short term memory), Binder (compared white noise-elicited firing patterns of a cortical neuron and a simplified model) and Jagadeesh (tested the role of perceptual masks in object recognition). In their second year, most PBio students serve as TAs in a two-quarter general physiology course for dental and nursing students. While I dreaded the prospect of leading discussion sessions, I learned a great deal of physiology and became more confident through the experience.

At the end of my first year, Eb Fetz graciously took me on as his student. My project investigates recruitment of muscle-related, and pre-motoneuronal, cortical neurons during muscle contraction. In conjunction, we stimulate the medial forebrain bundle--a pathway intimately involved in reward-related behaviors---to reinforce cortical- and muscle-activity operants in the freely-behaving primate. These days I work alongside four post- and two other pre-doctoral fellows; my research has benefited from the talents and insights of each. Opportunities to meet visiting scientists, participate in department committees and present findings at scientific conferences are but a few of the benefits enjoyed by PBio graduate students.

Contrary to whatever impression the above may have formed, there is more to life than one's career. To appease my creative urges (and to blow off steam) I play drums in a rock band (my second since moving to Seattle). Seattle is a great place to go running in the summer months and it is never hard to find fun things to do.


Grant StoreyGrant Storey

I joined the PBio department as a graduate department in 2005. I work in the lab of Dr. Andres Barria. In the Barria lab, my work uses molecular and cellular techniques, along with advanced imaging and electrophysiology to better elucidate the molecular mechanisms that control a development switch in the NMDA type glutamate receptors. NMDA receptors are critical for controlling the activity-dependent processes that lead to the formation, refinement, and changes in strength of individual excitatory synapses in the brain. The ability for brain cells to alter their individual connections due to experience and in times of development is thought to be one of the cellular bases for learning and memory. I came to the Pbio department after graduating from the University of California, San Diego, where I majored in animal physiology and neuroscience. I also did a bit of undergraduate research studying electroreception in elasmobranch fishes (sharks, skates, and rays) in the lab of Dr. Ad Kalmijn at The Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I was drawn to the Pbio department and Seattle for several reasons. First, the faculty of this department is unmatched. They are truly world class scientists. I also find them to be accessible, curious, and eager to train the next generation. Secondly, Seattle is an excellent place to be if you are an adventurer. There are countless places to visit and discover whether you are into trying different types of food, going out to local hangouts, sampling different cultures, or exploring the natural beauty of the Northwest. I am truly excited about what I do and the person that I have become during my time here. The balance between world-class scientific training and ultimate adventure is one of a kind.


Yanping HuangYanping Huang

I joined the PBio department in 2007. I grew up in a small town in southern China. After finishing my bachelor degree in Physics, I attended the complex-systems summer school held by the Santa Fe Institute, where I carried out a team project regarding the aging of hearing systems, with a professor in Neuroscience and graduate students in Electrical Engineering.   Through this summer school, I was fortunate both to be able to participate in my first research on neural systems, and also to gain a sense of multidiscipline cooperation and communication. It was wonderful experience and I was also convinced that I wanted to continue to study and do research in this field. I researched many neurosciences programs and I believed PBio is the right place for me because of its renowned reputation and interdisciplinary nature.

During my first year, I rotated in labs of Fairhall(information based clustering in single neuron), Perkel ( parameter estimation in bird song learning system), Shea-brown (Applied Math faculty, application of control theory in neuroscience), and Rao (Computer Science and Engineering faculty, dynamic stimuli and  Bayesian inference in hippocampus CA1 place cells). Thanks to PBio department, I am able to study and research the neural system from diverse points of view.

PBio department is a small one. People here are welcoming and quite nice. It is the Department that truly cares about its students. As an international student, I don’t have any relatives in US, but I just feel that our department is like a family.


Sarah DomnitzSarah Domnitz

I joined the PBio department as a graduate student in 2004. I grew up in Boston, MA and went to college at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I majored in Biopsychology and worked in a lab doing behavioral research. After college I moved back to Boston and did molecular biology in an Alzheimer disease research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital for 3 years. During this time I learned a lot about diseased cells, but I felt I didn't have a solid background in the biology of a normal cell. So I decided to look for a graduate program that would help me fill this gap in my knowledge. Since I had already lived on the east coast and the in midwest, I wanted to move to the west coast. I knew UW PBio was the right graduate program for me because it had labs studying a broad range of topics and techniques. Being at a big university with a variety of research going on has allowed me to focus on my own field of research while keeping up on other fields that I don't get to work on in the lab. I am also working towards a certificate in the Molecular Medicine Training Program so I can continue following my interest in medicine. In addition, being located in Seattle allows me to easily escape the city to pursue my outdoor hobbies such as skiing and hiking.


Meg HamnerMeg Hamner

I have lived in the Northwest since I was a kid, and I am a huge fan of the clean air, nice people, the occasional bit of rain, and the fact that there is always a latte stand when you need one. I currently work in the Ransom lab. Our lab is focused on understanding the cellular and molecular pathophysiology of ischemic brain tissue injury in the white matter areas of the brain.

I attended the UW as an undergraduate with every intention of going to medical school. While Iím glad to say that I achieved that goal, it is not in the capacity that I originally intended. I started out wanting to become a physician. I worked hard as an undergrad and earned two bachelorís degrees with honors: one in neurobiology and the other in philosophy. I worked in two different labs as an undergrad, and worked my way up from dish washer to first author on a publication. Science has always come easy for me, and was what motivated me to pursue a career in medicine. However, the closer I came to graduation, the more people questioned my blind pursuit of a medical degree Ė even the medical school admissionís boards during my interviews, particularly when I went in there saying I wanted to be a ďphysician scientist.Ē I finally realized that it was the science that made me light up Ė it was thing I never tired of doing, and still donít.

I changed my focus, took the GRE, and applied to graduate programs which were a much better fit. I really enjoy designing experiments and coming up with questions to ask that no one else has thought of before. And itís even better when you get to find the answer!

I wonít tell you that Iíve never had a bad day in grad school, because my fellow students would know I was lying, but despite everything Iíve never lost that desire to know. It is that desire, as well as the support of a really great advisor, and the PBIO faculty and staff that have made all the difference for me.


Jeremy Cooper

Hi my is Jeremy Cooper and I joined the physiology and biophysics department as a graduate student in the fall of 2002. I grew up in Kirkland (a small suburb of Seattle) and still have many ties to this area. I moved to the eastern portion of the state during my undergraduate years at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. While studying mechanical engineering at Gonzaga, I worked part time at a small company called Itronix where I helped design and build “ruggedized” laptop computers for field service crews. I loved my time at Gonzaga but after graduation I was drawn back to my home in Seattle. Soon after moving back, I went to work for Boeing as an engineer. During this time, I took classes part-time in the University of Washington physics department. One of my classes was an introduction to biophysics taught by a student in the physiology and biophysics (P-BIO) department. I was quickly convinced that I wanted to study biophysics, so the following year I applied to the P-BIO department. After being accepted, I finished my masters in physics and quit my job at Boeing so that I could be a full time graduate student. I found the transition to be challenging but very rewarding. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far as a P-BIO grad student and I am very excited about continuing in this field of scientific research.



Miranda Roth Miranda Roth

Hi my name is Miranda Roth.  I grew up in Atlanta, GA and from there, attended college at Carleton College in Northfield, MN.  Being a small liberal arts college, Carleton allowed me to gain a very diverse education and make my own special major in Neuroscience - I primarily took courses in psychology, chemistry and biology.  The summer between my junior and senior years at Carleton, I came out to Seattle to take part in the summer undergraduate research program provided by the PBIO department.  This was a wonderful experience in which I rotated through the Binder Lab, attended many useful talks and presentations and met many amazing people in the department.  In addition to the location, reptuation and strength of the PBIO department, this summer program greatly inspired me to go to graduate school in general and to join the PBIO department in particular.  I came here directly after graduation and rotated through the Binder, Santana and Poolos Labs finally choosing the Poolos Lab as my thesis lab.  My research focuses on defining the mechansim of action of anti-epileptic drugs on kinases and ion channels in the hopes that we will be able to find novel targets for future drug design as well as gaining a stronger understanding of the general underlying molecular causes and effects of epilepsy.  To study this, I use electrophysiology and biochemistry in our lab, located in the Harborview Research and Training Building downtown.  During my time, here I very much enjoyed my coursework and found a particular love for teaching while being a teaching assistant for the nursing and dental schools' physiology classes.
In my spare time outside of the lab, I play a lot of ultimate frisbee - I captain Seattle's elite women's team Seattle Riot ( and coach the University of Washington's women's team Element and a high school co-ed club team Moho (  I also enjoy cooking and eating, particularly all the local produce and seafood seattle has to offer!


Mackenzie Howard

If you’re reading my student profile, chances are pretty good that you’re one of the following: 1) looking a graduate program to join and considering the UW Department of Physiology and Biophysics (PBIO); 2) already in the PBIO program and surfing around our website just to see what your fellow students had to say about themselves. If the former is true, welcome, this is a darn good place to be. If the latter is true, don’t you have experiments to do or something?

I followed a roundabout route to Seattle, growing up in central Oregon, getting my BA in Biology at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, and then doing a bit of research at OHSU, University of Miami, and University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. When the time came to find a new place to be to actually get through grad school PBIO was an easy choice. Being an amateur musician and a (semi-pro) scientist, I have always been interested in how the brain decodes information from the environment, particularly how the auditory system translates sound waves into electrical signals, then extracts information from the flow of neural signals coming from the ear into the brain. If you’re interested in auditory neuroscience there are few places in the world that can come close to the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center at UW. On top of that, you’re surrounded by some of the world’s best physiologists in a well-run department in the middle of one of the country’s best cities.

I had the good fortune to land in the lab of Ed Rubel, and have been studying how the physiological properties of auditory neurons in the brainstem allow them to do just that. The first part of my project examined how developmental changes in the voltage-dependent properties of cochlear nucleus neurons altered the way they integrate excitatory and inhibitory information. More recently I’ve been looking at how the voltage-dependent properties interact to control spike generation in these neurons.

Aside from the research Seattle is a great place to join a soccer team, go to concerts, drink microbrews and eat good food (living in Fremont I’m required to have at least 4 Thai meals a week). So there.

Sonya SchuhSonya Schuh

Being a California native, graduate of a small liberal arts college and a true naturalist, I was not quite sure if the University of Washington School of Medicine would be a good fit for me. However, upon further research I found that several of the faculty members piqued my interest and I was impressed by how many interesting and diverse professors were in Physiology & Biophysics.

Once I came to the PBio Interviews, I was hooked. Right away I felt a sense of comfort, friendliness and collegiality among the faculty, students, and administrative staff. I was very impressed not only by the high-caliber faculty and research, but that almost everybody I talked with had interesting lives inside and outside of science. I met professors that kayaked in the same beautiful rivers and oceansides I did marine mammal research in as an undergraduate. Other professors shared similar fascinations with life and the interplay between animals and their environment. Still others were musicians, artists, outdoorsmen, birders, and beekeepers, and several had happy families and children.

With the UW Population Center for Reproductive Biology and several great labs pursuing research in reproductive topics, I realized that my love and interest in reproductive physiology could be furthered here in the Physiology Department. I am now a third year graduate student in Bertil Hille’s lab and I am investigating signaling pathways in mammalian sperm and modulation of sperm motility in preparation for fertilization. In my first year here, I also had two other amazing research rotations with Robert Steiner and Linda Wordeman, where I gained valuable skills and perspectives, as well as wonderful friends and mentors. Serving as a Teaching Assistant for the Physiology 405 and 406 courses, and the Signaling Mechanisms Conjoint 531 course, has also been a very rewarding and beneficial teaching experience that has better equipped me for the academic world when I begin my career.

As I recognized when I first came to Seattle, the PBio Department truly cares about their students. We are involved in virtually every aspect of the department and are viewed as valuable contributing members of PBio. Ours is a fairly small department with a more personal feel than many other departments, which is also something that I have found very appealing. Since this department is affiliated with the School of Medicine and located near the main campus, it provides many exciting opportunities to work and interact with people in other departments, to take a variety of courses and attend a multitude of excellent seminars, spanning from zoological to very medical topics. PBio students have many terrific opportunities for close interaction with various renowned speakers at student lunches and meetings following the talks.

Being the only school outside of California to which I applied and the only school where the climate was rainy a large part of the year, I think says a lot about my selection of this school and how appealing I find this department. I have a family and a wonderful little 6-year-old daughter and so the surrounding city, schools, and environment were also big factors in my graduate school decision. I have gained so much in this past two years at UW and am so glad that I chose this great department and amazing city to carry out my graduate studies.