Viviana Gradinaru, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

Professor of Neuroscience and Biological Engineering

Heritage Principal Investigator

Director of the Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience Center of the Chen Institute at Caltech

Dr. Viviana Gradinaru completed her B.S. at Caltech and her Ph.D. research at Stanford University and is now a Professor of Neuroscience and Biological Engineering at Caltech. Dr. Gradinaru’s research interests focus on developing tools and methods for neuroscience (optogenetic actuators and sensors; tissue clearing and imaging; gene delivery vehicles) and using them to characterize circuits underlying locomotion, reward, and sleep, with the goal to inform deep brain stimulation (DBS) and better understand the underlying mechanisms of action.

Prof. Gradinaru has received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and has been honored as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist and as one of Cell’s 40 under 40. Gradinaru is also a Sloan Fellow, Pew Scholar, Moore Inventor, Vallee Scholar, and Allen Brain Institute NGL Council Member, and received the inaugural Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award by the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. In 2017 she was the Early-Career Scientist Winner in the Innovators in Science Award in Neuroscience (Takeda and the New York Academy of Sciences) and in 2018 she received a Gill Transformative award.

Viviana Gradinaru has also been very active in teaching and service, participating with lab members in regular technology training workshops at Caltech and for summer courses at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as well as running the CLOVER Center (Beckman Institute for CLARITY, Optogenetics and Vector Engineering), which provides training and access to the group's reagents and methods for the broader research community.

Detailed Research Program

Rosemary Challis, Ph.D.

AHA Postdoctoral Fellow

Rose received her B.S. in Biochemistry from UCLA and Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her thesis work focused on the structure and function of olfactory cilia in the mouse nose. In the Gradinaru Lab, Rose is studying the neural circuitry of the mammalian cardiac nervous system using tissue clearing, viral tracing, and optogenetic techniques.

Min Jee Jang, Ph.D.

Caltech Divisional Postdoctoral Fellow

Min received her BS, MS and PhD in Bio and Brain Engineering at KAIST. Her doctoral thesis focused on developing algorithms for quantitative analysis of large-scale calcium imaging data. Before joining Caltech, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Korea University on developing macro-scale 3D imaging and digital reconstruction methods using tissue clearing technique. In the Gradinaru lab, Min is interested in computational approaches to reconstruct the cellular structure of cleared tissue.

Elliott Robinson, M.D., Ph.D.

CTF Postdoctoral Fellow

Elliott got his B.S. from Georgetown University and his MD/PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His graduate work focused on the consequences of the OPRM1 A118G polymorphism on reward circuitry and was co-mentored by C.J. Malanga (UNC) and Markus Heilig (NIAAA). Elliott also collaborated with Bryan Roth to help validate the kappa opioid receptor DREADD (KORD) and spent the majority of his fourth year of medical school in Garret Stuber's lab learning optogenetic techniques and honing his skills as an electrophysiologist. In the Gradinaru Lab, Elliott will study dopaminergic circuits in a model of Neurofibromatosis Type 1 as part of a Children's Tumor Foundation Young Investigator Award.

Anat Kahan, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Anat received her BS, MS and PhD in Physical Chemistry in The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Her doctoral thesis, under the supervision of Prof. Yehuda Haas, focused on environmental effects on ultrafast molecular photo-induced reactions in condensed phase. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Yoram Ben-Shaul’s lab at The Hebrew University on discrimination between socially related cues in the accessory olfactory bulb. In the Gradinaru lab, Anat is interested in the effect of behavioral stress on reproduction, using tissue clearing, viral tracing, electrophysiology and optogenetic techniques.

Nick Goeden, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Nick received his B.S. from Caltech in biology, and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from The University of Southern California. Nick’s graduate work focused on characterizing developmental origins of mental disorders like autism and schizophrenia. While pursuing his Ph.D., Nick aided in the development and optimization of a novel ex-vivo placental perfusion system, with which he characterized the capacity of the placenta to metabolize serotonin. He later demonstrated that disruption of placental serotonin metabolism due to maternal inflammation impacts fetal neurodevelopment, and contributes to the onset of behavioral disruptions commonly seen in autism and schizophrenia. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Gradinaru lab, Nick aims to engineer systemically delivered viral vectors that are capable of modulating activity in specific neural circuits, thereby providing a noninvasive approach for the modulation of defined neural circuits.

Máté Borsos, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Máté received his BSc and MSc in genetics and developmental biology from ELTE, Budapest, Hungary. During his studies, he worked on chromosome segregation in the mouse oocyte at the Tachibana lab, Vienna, Austria; and on DNA methylation and transposon control in the male germline at the Bourc’his lab, Paris, France. Máté did his PhD in the Torres-Padilla lab in Munich, Germany collaborating with Jop Kind’s laboratory. His work focused on 3D genome organization in the preimplantation mouse embryo. He mapped Lamina Associated Domains (LADs) genome-wide in single cells of embryos and identified epigenetic processes that could play a role in LAD formation upon fertilization. In the Gradinaru lab, Máté aims to engineer novel rAAV variants to target the germline.

Ryan Cho, M.S.E.

Graduate Student

Computation and Neural Systems

Ryan received his BS from the Johns Hopkins University in 2008 and MSE from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. Before joining to Caltech for PhD, he gained experience in single neuron recording and intracranial EEG in surgical patients with epilepsy, while working as a research associate in Samsung Biomedical Research Institute. Ryan is combining his skills in neural signal processing and machine learning with optogenetics and in vivo optical imaging in the Gradinaru Lab to study diverse functional roles of dopaminergic neurons.

Sripriya Kumar, M.S.

Graduate Student

Biology and Biological Engineering

Priya received her B.Tech from Anna University, Chennai, India in 2010; and MS from University of Illinois at Chicago. Before starting her PhD at Caltech, she worked as a scientific researcher/lab manager in Dr. Gradinaru's lab for two plus years where she gained experience in developing molecular tools for neuroscience. As a graduate student, she is interested in engineering AAV capsids for broad applications.

Michael Altermatt, M.S.

Graduate Student


Michael received his B.S. and M.S. in Biotechnology from ETH Zurich. He completed his Master’s Thesis in the Bio Engineering Laboratory at ETH Zurich where he investigated the modulation of signaling in mammalian axons using a high-density MEA. In the Gradinaru Lab, Michael is applying optogenetics, in vivo optical imaging and electrical recordings to study neural circuits implicated in behavioral states.

Xiaozhe Ding, B.S.

Graduate Student


Xiaozhe received his BS from Tsinghua University, Bejing, China in 2014. Before joining Caltech, he was involved in multiple projects on structural biology and protein engineering. In the Gradinaru Lab, Xiaozhe is working on developing new molecular tools and viral vectors for neuroscience.

Gerry Coughlin, B.S.

Graduate Student, NSERC PGS-D Fellow


Gerry received a B.S. in Psychology, a B.S. in Primatology and a B.S. in Cellular, Molecular and Microbial Biology, all from the University of Calgary, Canada. During his undergraduate, Gerry investigated an array of research topics: how repeated seizures change the functional organization of the motor cortex, how cell adhesion molecules are involved in the development of hypothalamic nuclei, and how nanoparticles may be used to control liposome fusion. In the Gradinaru Lab, Gerry is taking a multi-pronged approach to studying how behavioural stress impinges upon reproduction. 

Tatyana Dobreva, B.S.

Graduate Student

Medical Engineering

Tatyana was granted her B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prior to joining as a graduate student in Medical Engineering, she worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Signal Processing Engineer and volunteered at Viviana's lab doing data analysis on AAV targeted evolution project and on image processing for light sheet fluorescence microscopy. She is currently working on exploring AAV blood-brain barrier entry mechanism with a motivation to guide development of novel delivery methods and improve existing systemic gene delivery methods. 

David Brown, B.S.

Graduate Student / Chen Graduate Fellow

Computation and Neural Systems

David received his B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan in 2014. Before collaborating with the Gradinaru Lab, he worked in Richard Andersen's lab doing data analysis for single-neuron electrical recordings in implanted human subjects, and developing a framework for controlling a robotic prosthetic arm. He was a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the AI group and worked on planning and decision-making algorithms for autonomous systems, and image analysis of comets. In the Gradinaru Lab, he is applying automation technology to biological applications, such as machine learning for AAV targeted evolution.

Miggy Chuapoco, M.S.

Graduate Student

Biological Engineering

Miggy received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from Stanford University. Prior to joining the Gradinaru lab, Miggy developed carbon fiber electrodes designed to be used simultaneously with fMRI and optogenetics. As a graduate student in the Gradinaru lab, he is currently interested in engineering viral capsids to make novel vectors for research and therapeutic applications.

Miggy is in Biological Engineering program in the NIH/NIGMS Biotechnology Leadership Predoctoral Program in Micro/Nanomedicine at Caltech.

Xinhong Chen, B.S.

Graduate Student / Chen Graduate Fellow


Xinhong received his B.S. in Biotechnology from Tongji University, China in 2017. He studied the genetic impact on Alzheimer's Disease using Drosophila and led a iGEM team manipulating C. elegans with Optogentics whist at college. Prior to joining Caltech as a student in Neurobiology program, he did his undergraduate thesis in Kay Tye's lab at MIT focusing on the circuit underlying alcohol addiction. In the Gradinaru Lab, he is developing tools to study the interaction between Neuron System and Immune System.

Acacia Hori, B.A.

Graduate Student / USC-Caltech MD-PhD

Biological Engineering

Acacia received a B.A. in Neuroscience in 2013 from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. In her undergraduate research, she explored a range of topics involving medical therapies, including transplantation of engineered stem cells for epilepsy and vaccine production strategies for underdeveloped countries. After graduating, she worked as a lab technician for the Shorter group at the University of Pennsylvania, investigating the role of molecular chaperones in protein folding of disease substrates. After completing the preclinical curriculum at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, she has joined the Gradinaru lab, where she is investigating gene therapy applications for diseases affecting the nervous system. Acacia is part of the USC-Caltech MD-PhD program.

Elisha Mackey, B.S.

Lab Manager

Pat Anguiano

Administrative Assistant

Gradinaru Lab over the Years