Benjamin T. Saunders, PhD

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Principal Investigator

Ben received his B.S. from West Virginia University and PhD (thesis) from the University of Michigan, where he worked in the lab of Terry Robinson. He then did postdoctoral research in Patricia Janak's lab, first at the University of California, San Francisco, and then at Johns Hopkins University.

As part of the Medical Discovery Team on Addiction at the University of Minnesota, Ben’s lab will investigate neural circuit mechanisms of motivation.


Amy Wolff, PhD

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Staff Scientist and Lab Manager

Amy obtained her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and continued there for her Ph.D. in Neuroscience in the lab of David Bilkey. Her doctoral thesis examined the long-term behavioral and neural consequences of alterations in the maternal environment, and the relationship of these changes to a schizophrenic phenotype. 

She then moved to Hamburg, Germany for a postdoctoral position in the lab of Ileana Hanganu-Opatz to explore how the communication between brain regions develops during early postnatal life, before moving to the UK to take up a Roche Postdoctoral Fellowship working with Dimitri Kullmann, David Bannerman, and Dennis Kaetzel. As part of this work, Amy utilized chemogenetic and optogenetic techniques to explore how the dysfunction of different types of neurons might be involved in schizophrenia. 

Amy then joined the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford as a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist working in the labs of Paul Dodson and Peter Magill investigating the in vivo firing properties of midbrain dopaminergic neurons in mouse models of Parkinson's disease.


Liv Engel, BA

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Research Technician

Liv completed her B.A. in psychology at Reed College where she worked in Dr. Paul Currie’s lab investigating the role of ghrelin and NPY on drug reward. Her undergraduate thesis examined the role of estrogen receptors in alcohol withdrawal-induced anxiety. In the future, Liv hopes to receive an M.D. Ph.D. with a focus on addiction. In her free time, she enjoys biking, playing rugby, and ceramics. 


Anne Collins, PhD

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NIH T32 Postdoctoral Fellow

Annie started her scientific career as an undergraduate research assistant in Ilene Bernstein’s lab  and Paul Phillip’s lab at the University of Washington, where she worked on projects investigating the effect of adolescent alcohol exposure on risky decision-making and contributing neural correlates, specifically phasic dopaminergic activity using FSCV. She graduated magna cum laude with honors and distinction in Psychology with a focus in behavioral neuroscience. As a research technician in Paul Phillip’s lab at the University of Washington, she worked closely with Jeremy Clark to investigate the role of phasic dopamine activity in Pavlovian learning.

She earned her Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience program in Kate Wassum’s lab in the UCLA Psychology Department. She initially began investigating into the role of phasic dopamine activity within the ventral striatum in action-performance (Collins et al., 2016). From there, she became interested in the interaction between mesolimbic dopamine and acetylcholine transmission in mediating the ability of reward-predictive stimuli to initiate and invigorate the performance of reward-seeking actions using FSCV, choline biosensing, chemo- and opto-genetic technology (Collins et al., 2016, Collins et al., 2019).

In her free time she enjoys the operawriting science fiction, painting and sculpting.


Carli Poisson, BA

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Neuroscience Graduate Student

Carli is a first year Ph.D. student in the graduate program of neuroscience at UMN. She completed her B.A. in Neuroscience & Behavior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. While there, she worked with Dr. Mike Robinson exploring the role of the central amygdala in motivation and decision making. She plans to study the neural correlates of motivation, with a focus on addiction neuroscience, while in graduate school.

When she is not in the lab, you can find her extolling the virtues of her home state (Maine), scoping out the Twin Cities music scene, or volunteering with reproductive justice organizations. 


Michael Dahl

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Research Assistant

Michael Dahl is an undergraduate student at the UMN College of Biological Sciences pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology. He is scheduled to graduate in the Spring of 2020 and will continue to pursue higher levels of education following graduation.

In the lab, Michael is currently working with the DeepLabCut pipeline, to analyze behavioral videos from lab experiments.


Emily Schwartz

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Research Assistant

Emily is currently an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota in the College of Biological Sciences. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience, with plans to graduate in the Fall of 2019. After graduating, she hopes to continue on to medical school and become a surgeon.

Emily enjoys working and volunteering at the University of Minnesota Medical Center- West Bank Campus. In her free time, she also enjoys playing hockey, ultimate frisbee, soccer, and golf.


Cassandra Herubin

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Research Assistant

Cassandra is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, where she is majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Psychology. Her future plans include attending medical school to pursue a career in Psychiatry.  As she strives to achieve those goals, she wants to learn more about addiction and research the mechanisms behind motivation and learning. In Cassandra’s free time she volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and she enjoys reading and baking. 


Kaisa Bornhoft

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Research Assistant

Kaisa is currently a sophomore at the University of Minnesota majoring in neuroscience in the College of Biological Sciences. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school to pursue a career in the field of neurology. 

In her free time, Kaisa volunteers at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and enjoys climbing, taking long walks, and spending time with her dog Comet.