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Faculty Highlights: Haiyan He, Ph.D. (Dept. of Biology)


Haiyan He, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Georgetown. She received her Bachelors of Science from Shanghai Jiaotong University, China, Master of Science from Peking University, China, and Doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Dr. He completed her Post-Doc at Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA.

Involvement in Research:

Dr. He researches the role that experience plays in the development and refinement of neuronal circuits. She specifically focuses on inhibitory neurons during early development. These focuses provide invaluable knowledge regarding the ability of the neural circuit to incorporate new information and adapt to a new environment while also bringing about instability, respectively, and may also shed light on the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders. Her lab utilizes the albino Xenopus laevis (tadpole) as their animal model due to its unique central nervous system that lends itself to manipulations from molecular to circuit level. Additionally, plasticity and stability are vital components of its survival in an in vivo vertebrate system. Focusing on the optic tectum, which is the equivalent of the mammalian superior colliculus, her lab manipulates the visual experience of the tadpoles to study neuroplasticity mechanisms on both the molecular and circuit level. 


For Dr. He, she was inspired to pursue neuroplasticity research when she picked up a book about long-term potentiation one afternoon while she was studying for her Chemical Engineering examination at the Shanghai Jiaotong University Library. After reading this book, Dr. He was captivated by questions regarding the neural mechanisms underlying experience-dependent plasticity and started reading up on neuroscience during her free time. Once she graduated from university, she decided to pursue research as a career. 


Dr. He has found her time researching to be rewarding. She enjoys the luxuries working as a researcher has to offer including being able to ask and answer questions based on her own curiosity in the ever-growing neuroplasticity field. This explorative research affords her the opportunity to formulate hypotheses that are sometimes proven correct but often proven wrong. Within the research field, even negative data can be invaluable for understanding the underlying neural processes. She believes that it is pivotal to keep an open mind because all of these discoveries in the lab may help answer overarching questions about how our brain works and how we can better devise treatment for diseases.

Advice for Students:

Regardless of whether research is the path for you, having a strong foundation and being able to understand ongoing research in established and frontier fields is helpful in many interdisciplinary fields, including but not limited to policy-making, medicine, and even journalism.

Written by Danya Adams and Orion Gangopadhyay