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ARRA @ Work: Stephen Van Hooser – Exploring How Experiences Influence Brain Development


Photo of Dr. Van Hooser

Stephen Van Hooser, Ph.D., has been named assistant professor of biology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. His laboratory opened its doors in May, 2010. The new faculty position was made possible as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) through a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Dr. Van Hooser’s research focuses on understanding how personal experiences can impact the brain. "We know there are important contributions to brain development not just from genetics but also from the environment," he said. "Our lab will employ advanced brain imaging technology to study the role of experience in the development of brain circuits."

Dr. Van Hooser said the ARRA award has helped pay for some of the advanced microscopy equipment essential for his work. This includes a two-photon microscope, an instrument that uses laser technology to peer more deeply into living tissue to monitor neural development.

By supporting the lab’s infrastructure, the funding has freed up resources that Dr. Van Hooser is using to hire additional research staff. "In our first year we will have four people in the lab, and we hope to grow to fill about ten positions over the next five years," he said.

He added that the impact of the stimulus funds is likely to go beyond his own lab. “A lot of our equipment is made by small businesses in the U.S. For instance, our microscopes are assembled in Madison, Wisconsin," he said. In that way, he said, the ARRA funds are “helpful to many people in many ways.”

The new post is a homecoming of sorts for Dr. Van Hooser, who earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Brandeis. Most recently, he conducted postdoctoral studies as a research associate at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. As part of his research there, he helped develop a system for monitoring activity of single neurons in the visual cortex.

Photo caption: Dr. Van Hooser

Last updated December 23, 2013