Ben's Website

Serious musings

Howard Hughes Medical Institute @ Stanford

After my PhD I left UW-Madison for Prof. Mark Schnitzer's group at Stanford and HHMI, where I worked with laser physicists and biologists to design automated neuroscience systems to increase experimental throughput.  These robotic systems are more than a convenience, as they can eliminate the need for sedatives, permit re-sampling of the same neurons over long durations, enable simultaneous observation of multiple, disparate brain regions, increase experimental controls, and reduce experimenter workloads.  I found this work interesting because these systems naturally inhabit unexplored design regimes and required varied and creative systems, mechanical, electrical, and software engineering.  Here's a longer overview of their research.

My primary project was reconstructing, improving, and rearchitecting the fly picking robot, seen here in it's original form.

This robot is the first step of an automated fly experiment system, where we need to gain custody of a freely behaving fruit fly and prepare it for subsequent experiments.  This paper has more details on the overall vision.

I also designed and built a 5D remote center-of-rotation kinematic mechanism to enable observation of challenging areas of the mouse brain.  I'll include a longer discussion in a later post.

I chose to live in Palo Alto and bike commute 6-8mi every day.  This was great for my health (collarbone excepted) and avoiding the commute helped make Palo Alto more tolerable.  My second apartment was near Page Mill and most weekends I biked west and up one of the great Portola climbs.  Running the Stanford Dish, or in the Santa Cruz Mountains was also quite fun, though I missed the forest and verdant trail running I had in Wisconsin.  And it was great being 3 hours from Tahoe skiing, though I was never convinced that it was winter when it was 3 hours away.

There is much to criticize on the quality of life in the Bay Area: I found the prevalent socioeconomic class distinctions jarring and I became increasingly doubtful that they would act to fix their broken citiesAlas.  I have some thoughts on the way out of this more generally, we'll save them for the longer post.

Thanks to Mark, Tony, Cheng, SeungJe, Radek, and the rest of lab for the hard work and friendship.