Faculty Spotlight

Looking Deeper into Memory and Sensation...

Dr. Gideon Rothschild, PhD

Faculty Spotlight

Gideon Rothschild is a busy man, both inside and outside his lab. He recently took the time to share with us, the work that is happening in his lab, his personal and professional interests, and his thoughts about life in Michigan versus the West Coast.

 Read on and be inspired!

P.S. We think he likes it here!

What has your recent affiliation been like for you and how has that helped to expand your research?

For me the affiliation with the Neuroscience Graduate Program is an invaluable connection with the UM-wide neuroscience community. Through it I get exposed to the excellent neuroscience students and faculty that may have overlapping or completely different research interests than my own, and I have found that in both cases these interactions can be very stimulating and potentially fruitful. I very much enjoy interacting with the students and faculty in classes, seminars or my lab and am sure that these interactions will eventually lead my lab to new research directions.


How does your prior research fit in with the Neuroscience focus here at Michigan?

My research into the neural mechanisms underlying memory and sensation includes a strong emphasis on behavior, and in particular understanding what neural processes underlie cognition. This is a fundamental component of the research carried out in the psychology department, where my primary appointment is. Being part of a department that shares this interest is very stimulating. I believe that my systems-neurophysiology approaches, such as electrophysiology and two-photon calcium imaging in rodents during learning, allow us to address new questions within this line of research. At the campus level, there is an extensive enhancement of systems neuroscience, which I am very happy to be part of. In addition, my interests in auditory neuroscience interface well with the excellent research in the Kresge institute, where I have a secondary appointment. And beyond that, I am exposed to areas I have less experience with, such as molecular biology and neuroscience of disease models. So, overall, I feel I will be both contributing to, and gaining from, being part of the neuroscience community here at UM.


What are the real-world applications from the research you do?

Understanding how our brain transforms meaningful sensory experiences into memories, as well as how memories of past experiences influence our perception of the world, are questions that touch upon numerous aspects of our lives in both health and disease. For healthy individuals, better understanding the neural mechanisms of learning and memory holds the potential for developing memory enhancement or erasure approaches. While this sounds like science fiction, it is in fact already a prominent research direction, although mostly still in rodents. In addition, diseases that involve failures in sensation-memory interactions influence millions of people around the world and for most of them we do not understand the underlying neural process sufficiently well enough to develop efficient treatments. For example, in PTSD, Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, there are often elements of impaired sensory processing that interact with impaired memory. If we figure out what processes in the brain link sensation and memory, we will be hopefully able to develop new treatments for these disorders.

How do you balance your time between the demands of your research and teaching, and your personal life?

Most importantly by being deeply aware that to enjoy and succeed in all of these requires time, attention and investment. Once you come to terms with that, the unavoidable tradeoffs are much easier to accept. I believe this is what allows me to be perfectly happy to go play basketball with my boys even though there is always one deadline or another. At the same time, this understanding will also at times make me return to lab at night to work on an issue that requires an extra push. Of course, this doesn’t always work perfectly smoothly..I believe that my time with my family and having some personal fun are important in and of themselves, but they also energize and focus my research and teaching. Similarly, making progress and getting satisfaction in the lab make me happier in general. So while work/life balance definitely involves tradeoffs, for me it also has a symbiotic element.

As a child, did you imagine yourself in a scientific research position or did you envision a different path?

I did not imagine myself as a scientist, and weirdly I actually don’t remember thinking much about what I would become at all. My parents instilled in me the delight of learning and the importance of work ethics, but they didn’t guide me to a specific direction (except accounting, which they were unanimously against). So I was still considering very different alternatives even as I was about to enroll in the university. However, once I experienced the fascination of scientific research and discovery, I pretty much knew that I would like to continue with that as a career.

What motivated you to develop a research career?

It is odd that there are thousands of movies about detectives solving crimes and almost none about scientific discovery, although I honestly believe that what drives both, as well as the drama and challenges are very similar. There are many things that I love about being an academic researcher, but I think that what motivates me the most is the passion to solve mysteries.

Gideon, you spent several years in San Francisco for your post-doc. How do you like the smaller environment of Ann Arbor and what are your favorite things to do in your free time?

We had great years in San Francisco, a very unique and lively city, but for me it never became home. Although we have only been here for a year, I feel (and hope) that Ann Arbor can be our home for many years. Partly it is because being a postdoc is, by definition, a temporary position, so you never really settle down. But I also feel that something here resonates more with my personality. I love the trees, the friendly midwestern atmosphere, the patriotism and pride people feel towards the city and UM, the strong seasonality and the relative ease of life here. In addition, winter is not as bad as we feared. I like to be with my family, fix up and build things in our new home and garden, do a bit of woodworking, sports (currently ramping that back up), go hiking and road trips, and play a bit of chess. 

If, in the next 5 minutes, you could develop the perfect device or treatment related to your research what would it be and what benefit would it deliver?

It was once a dream to be able to monitor and modulate the activity of numerous precisely-localized neurons in the brain of an animal as it is experiencing and learning, but this is now a reality, including in my lab. So I honestly feel that I have my dream devices, and the challenge is to use them to carry out meaningful, solid and impactful science. But if I have to choose a device that is relevant to my research, I would choose a device that reads the dozens of relevant papers that come out every week in my field and incepts their summary into my brain.

With one word, describe your experience here at Michigan.


(with a smile!)