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. Prof. Gradinaru has more than 70 publications in top peer-reviewed journals and more than 10 granted patents, additional pending, in areas of optogenetics, viral vectors, and tissue clearing and imaging. Prof. Gradinaru has received the NIH Director’s New Innovator and Pioneer Awards and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and has been honored as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist. Gradinaru is also a Sloan Fellow, Pew Scholar, Moore Inventor, Vallee Scholar, and Allen Brain Institute 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); in 2018 she received a Gill Transformative award; in 2019 Gradinaru was a Life Sciences Finalist for the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists; and in 2020 she was the winner of Science Magazine & PINS Prize for Neuromodulation and awarded: the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science; the Outstanding New Investigator Award by the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy; and the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award.

Professor Gradinaru teaches undergraduate and graduate level classes on viral biology and optogenetics techniques in neuroscience. Viviana Gradinaru has also been very active in technology dissemination, participating with lab members in regular technology training workshops at Caltech and for summer courses at Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory as well as founding and now advising 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 (awarded Addgene Blue Flame for reagent dissemination). Gradinaru is also a cofounder and board member of Capsida Biotherapeutics, a fully integrated AAV engineering and gene therapy company.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Min Jee Jang, Ph.D.


Min received her BS, MS and PhD in Bio and Brain Engineering at KAIST, South Korea. Her doctoral thesis focused on developing algorithms and computational methods for quantitative analysis of large-scale calcium imaging data. Before joining Caltech, she worked as postdoctoral fellow at Korea University on developing meso-scale 3D imaging of the whole mouse brain and its digital reconstruction methods with tissue clearing techniques. In the Gradinaru lab, Min aims to develop high-throughput in situ assays for viral capsid libraries.

Anat Kahan, Ph.D.


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.

Máté Borsos, Ph.D.


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.

Mengying Zhang, Ph.D.



Mengying received her B.S. in biological sciences at Sichuan University, China, and Ph.D. in molecular engineering and sciences at the University of Washington. Her doctoral thesis, under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth Nance, focused on fluorescent nano-sized semiconductor particles quantum dots (QDs), their performance as imaging probes in the developing brain, and their potential application for visualizing and tracking small biological entities, such as extracellular vesicles (EVs). In Gradinaru lab, Mengying is interested in studying AAV to target the primate brain.

Seongmin Jang, Ph.D.


Seongmin received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Biology at KAIST. His doctoral thesis focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of epigenetic gene regulation using an integrative structural biology approach. He determined the cryo-EM structure of DOT1L histone H3 K79 methyltransferase recognizing H2B ubiquitinated nucleosome. In the Gradinaru lab, Seongmin is interested in the structural approach to understanding cell recognition and invasion by engineered AAV.

Changfan Lin, Ph.D.


Changfan received his B.S. degree at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China in 2014. He pursued his doctoral degree at Cornell University, USA, with the mentor of professor Brian Crane. His work focused on the understanding of molecular mechanism of drosophila circadian clock and engineering its light sensing protein Cryptochrome for optogenetical applications. He led the project to solve the first cryo-EM structure of protein complex Cryptochrome and Timeless, which are the core components of the circadian rhythm. He joined Gradinaru’s lab in 2021, and he aims to develop AAV shielding strategies to evade undesired immune response for more efficient and safe gene therapy. Besides, he works on AAV engineering for more specific targeting purpose.

Cynthia Arokiaraj, Ph.D.


Cynthia completed her B.Tech in Biotechnology from Anna University in Chennai, India. She then went on to pursue her doctoral studies in Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. There, she focused on pain research with an interest in translating spinal cord dorsal horn circuit studies from the rodent to the primate. She performed transcriptomic analyses (which include snRNA-seq, snATAC-seq, in situ hybridization and bioinformatics) to find conserved cell types between the mouse and Rhesus macaque. In the Gradinaru lab, she is interested in studying the gut-brain circuitry underlying Parkinson’s as part of the ASAP initiative.

Graduate Students

Xiaozhe Ding, B.S.


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.


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 exploring strategies for non-invasive gene manipulation, for therapeutic and research applications.

Miggy Chuapoco, M.S.


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.


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.



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.

David Goertsen, B.ASc.



David received his B. ASc. in 2017 from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. During his undergraduate, David worked with the iGEM teams at UBC, engineering functional cellulase enzymes to express on the surface of C. crescentus and characterizing CRISPR/Cas9 in A. tumefaciens for crop protection. Between graduation and starting his PhD, David researched the degradation of environmental toxins using a genetically engineered bacteria and developed technology to scale the production of human pluripotent stem cells in vitro. In the Gradinaru lab, he is researching the AAV capsid and the production machinery of AAV to improve the production capacity of gene therapy vectors.

Undergraduate Students

Anastasiya (Nastya) Grebin


Nastya is a current Caltech undergraduate pursuing a BS in Bioengineering. Her previous lab experience includes work on piRNA-mediated transcriptional repression with the Aravin lab. With the Gradinaru group, Nastya studies the application of AAV technology to develop gene therapies for human neurodegenerative disorders such as Friedreich’s Ataxia and Rett Syndrome.

Alexander Wang


Alex is currently a Caltech undergraduate pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics. He previously worked on classification of somatic L1 insertions in human neurons in Alexander Urban’s lab at Stanford and integration of deep kernel learning into multi-fidelity Bayesian Optimization algorithms in Yisong Yue’s group at Caltech. In the Gradinaru Lab, he is using machine learning to model and improve AAV-mediated gene delivery and to improve cell calling methods.

Visiting Scholars

Julia Vendemiatti



Julia received her B.S. in Computer Science and Computational Biology in 2021. In her undergraduate research, she studied theoretical computer science and problems in computational biology, such as phylogenetic tree reconstruction. She has now joined the Gradinaru lab as part of a fellowship with the Schmidt Academy of Software Engineers.


Elisha Mackey, B.S.



Elisha is our awesome lab manager who works tirelessly to keep our lab in good shape! Science wouldn’t be possible without her!

Pat Anguiano


Pat is our incredible administrative assistant who works at lightening speed to help with everybody’s needs!

Nathan Appling, B.S.



Nathan received his B.S in Neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside in 2020. In the Gradinaru lab, he is excited to aide graduate students and post-doctoral scholars to manufacture, test, and study novel AAV variants.

Carrie Saada, B.S.


Carrie received their B.S. in Mathematical and Computational Biology from Harvey Mudd College in 2019. In their undergraduate research they studied the localization of bromodomain proteins during the differentiation of T. brucei in Prof. Schulz’s lab at HMC. They are excited to work on a variety of projects in the Gradinaru lab, and to learn more about and contribute to biology research.

Catherine Oikonomou, Ph.D.


Catherine received her B.S. from Duke and Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, where she studied yeast cell cycle circuitry with Dr. Frederick Cross. As a research scientist and writer with Dr. Grant Jensen at Caltech, she helped the lab develop and apply cryo-electron tomography imaging to structural cell biology. In 2021, she joined the Gradinaru lab and is excited to serve as project manager for the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s team.

Lab Alumni

Gradinaru Lab Over the Years