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Biology student wins Suttles Fellowship

Monday, February 20, 2012 – Ravi K. Gandhi

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“Watching a group of friends makes it easy to observe that similar brains can generate very different behaviors,” writes Joshua Lillvis.  But it is for watching sea slugs swim that Lillvis, a doctoral student in Biology, was selected recently for the William M. Suttles Graduate Fellowship, the most prestigious of the university’s internal graduate student awards.  

Lillvis is interested in what is happening at the neurological level of sea slugs, which have similar brains, he notes, but display great variance in swimming behaviors.  

“Despite the similarities, subtle neural differences must exist that are responsible for the behavioral diversity seen across individuals and across related species. What differences underlie such behavioral diversity?”, he asks.

Unlike other studies in the field, Lillvis notes, his promises to investigate “all four possible mechanisms underlying behavioral differences,” namely, the addition or removal of neurons, differences in the properties of neurons, differences in their synaptic connections, and differences in the way neural circuits are modulated by chemicals.  Lillvis believes that his findings will inform an understanding of other species as well.

Paul Katz, Professor of Neuroscience and Biology, is directing Lillvis’ dissertation, which is called “Species Differences in Neural Circuit Modulation Related to Behavior.”

Each year, the university’s dissertation grant program awards grants—12 this year—to full-time doctoral students “to help meet the cost associated with their dissertation efforts.”  The Suttles Fellowship was established by the John and Mary Franklin Foundation in honor of William Suttles, the fourth president of Georgia State University, to provide additional support.

Other College of Arts and Sciences recipients of this year’s dissertation grants are: 

• Ananta Acharya, Physics and Astronomy, “Structure and Stability of InGaN Epilayers.”

• Sharlet Anderson, Psychology, “Working Memory and Emotion Recognition in ASD.”

• Binhuan Wang, Mathematics and Statistics, “Evaluation of Continuous-Scale Diagnostic Test with Missing Data.”

• Yang Wang, Computer Science, “Design Bandwidth-Efficient and Energy-Efficient Spectrum—Sliced Elastic Optical Path Networks for the Future Internet.”

• Hanfang Yang, Mathematics and Statistics, “Statistical Methodologies for ROC Curve-Based Diagnostic Test.”

Inside the brain of a sea slug, or Tritonia (Katz Laboratory)