The Spring 2019 Brain Explorer Academy session is currently underway and the science mentors are enjoying working with the Orange County Middle Schoolers! 

The children and their mentors spend Saturday mornings at the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory as part of the Center’s Brain Explorer Academy. This program is 100% free and is possible thanks to the dedicated scientists who are passionate about science education and brain awareness. This spring, the program is led by co-chairs and doctoral students Morgan Coburn and Jonathan Hasselmann in partnership with Manuella Yassa, Director of Outreach and Education.

To learn more about the Brain Explorer Academy and to apply to participate in the next session, click here.

Manuella Yassa

Manuella Yassa
Director of Outreach and Education, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Founder and Director, UC Irvine Brain Explorer Academy

My interests lie at the intersection of neuroscience and education and I am passionate about the mission of the Brain Explorer Academy. I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University before teaching middle school science in Baltimore, Maryland. I am lucky to work among the brilliant junior scientists and professors at UC Irvine who value science outreach and public education. We look forward to meeting you!


Morgan Coburn
Co-Chair, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Blurton-Jones

Hi! My name is Morgan and I’m a second year grad student. I focus on the intersection between the immune system and the brain in Dr. Blurton-Jones’s lab, where we study human microglia and their role in neuroinflammatory or degenerative states like Alzhiemer’s Disease. I’m a SoCal native and when I’m not running experiments in lab I enjoy drawing, hiking, or hitting the beach.


Jonathan Hasselmann
Co-Chair, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Blurton-Jones

Hi, my name is Jonathan Hasselmann and I am a neurobiology PhD student in Dr. Mathew Blurton-Jones’ lab. I became interested in neuroscience because I was fascinated by memory and how our memories shape the decisions that we make and the people that we are. I study microglia (a type of brain cell) to try to figure out what happens in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. If we can understand what this disease is doing to the brain, then hopefully we can figure out how to treat it. I can’t wait to meet you all so that we can explore the brain together!


Jaclyn Beck
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Blurton-Jones

Hi, my name is Jaclyn. I’m interested in what goes wrong in the brain, so I study Alzheimer’s Disease and how the brain’s aging immune system plays a role. I got interested in neuroscience because of how much we still don’t know about the brain — it’s this really complicated biological computer. It contains all of our thinking and memories and personalities, and yet we still don’t entirely know how it works! I think the brain is the most amazing part of the human body. I hope that by the end of the Brain Explorer Academy, you’ll agree!

Mitchell Farrell

Mitchel Farrell
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Steven Mahler

Hello! My name is Mitch and I’m from New Jersey where I grew up with my four brothers and four basset hounds. At UCI, I study how the brain motivates us to do things. Ever wonder why we crave our favorite foods when hungry or seek out water when we’re thirsty?  These are the types of questions I research and can’t wait to share my interests with you!

Caden Henningfield

Caden Henningfield
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Kim Green

Hello! I’m Caden, and I am a graduate student at UCI. I am a Southern California native and I am interested in how the brain’s resident immune cells, microglia, interact with the the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. I like to think of the brain as a very tough puzzle that we as researchers try to put together piece by piece. I can’t wait to share my interests in neuroscience with you all!

Hokenson_ Rachael Elizabeth

Rachael Hokenson
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Tallie Z. Baram

Hi, I’m Rachael.  I was an undergraduate student at UCI and am now a first-year graduate student here.  I’ve long been interested in the brain, mainly psychiatric disorders and memory, and will be studying the effects of stress on memory and the sex differences observed in these reactions.  I look forward to encouraging young students to be interested in science as well as share how neuroscience research is important to public health and society as a whole.


Elizabeth Hubbard
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Rotating Graduate Student

Hello! My name is Lizzy and I am a current first year graduate student in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program. I hope to study how drug use changes our brains and lead to addiction. I am a SoCal native and enjoy running and swimming in my free time. This is my first year as a Brain Explorer mentor and I can’t wait to encourage young scholars’ interest in the brain and answer any questions they may have about it!


Scott Killianski
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Bruce McNaughton

Hi, my name is Scott, and I am a PhD student studying how memories are changed during sleep in the laboratory of Bruce McNaughton. I am fascinated by how the brain responds to the outside world, how it makes memories, and what it does while we sleep. My interest in neuroscience was sparked in college. During an introductory lecture on the nervous system, I suddenly appreciated an established yet still astonishing fact! The brain controls our behaviors:  the way we eat, sleep, love our families and friends, compose music, travel to outer space, solve a math problem, do anything and everything! It was after that realization that I knew I had to pursue the question of how the brain actually does these things. I can’t wait to share everything I’ve learned with you and hear everything you know about brain, too!

McQuade Photo

Amanda McQuade
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Mathew Blurton-Jones

Hi! I’m Amanda. I discovered my passion for science in elementary school through camps similar to the Brain Explorer’s Academy, so I’m super excited to be a part of this program helping to inspire the next generation of curious scientists! This will be my second time participating as a mentor, and I can’t wait meet everyone! Currently, I am studying how immune cells in the brain contribute to age-related diseases. My favorite thing about being a scientist is learning how to make new types of brain cells!


Julian Quintanilla
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Gary Lynch

Hey, my name is Julian and I am currently a second-year graduate student. My interest in how memories are formed on a biological level has led me to join the lab of Dr. Lynch. The work that I do revolves around why some memories can last a life time and others forgotten the next day, specifically how important events enhance our memory. Before entering graduate school, I spent some time working at several exhibits within the California Science Center in Los Angeles, CA. While here, I gained a passion for not only sparking science interest in others, but also space! So, if I’m not rambling on about the brain, it may be about other worldly things.


Hamsi Radhakrishnan
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Craig Stark

Hello! I am Hamsi and I am interested in how our brains change as a consequence of aging and disease! I am currently studying how white matter, the connecting tissue that helps different regions of our brains communicate with each other, deteriorate when we grow older and the ways in which it impacts our memory and cognition. My passion for science was fostered by many educators in my life (and a lot of kooky science fiction). I am so excited to share how beautifully mind-blowing our brains are with all of you!


Michelle Ren
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Dr. Shahrdad Loftipour

Hi, I’m Michelle! What do you think people mean when they say to trust your gut feelings or instincts? Turns out that our gut may actually have a mind of its own! My research focuses on how the bacteria in our gut influence our feelings and behavior, specifically related to reward and motivation. I find the brain so fascinating because it is the most powerful and unique thing we own!

Jessica Sanchez

Jessica Sanchez
Mentor, Brain Explorer Academy
Graduate Student, Laboratory of Mathew Blurton-Jones

Hi I’m Jessica. As a PhD graduate student I am able to combine my passion for science, teaching, mentoring, and exploring the brain. I study how the cells of the immune system, specifically microglia and T cells, influence Alzheimer’s disease. When I’m not conducting research I enjoy playing video games and spending lots of time with my family. I am very excited to meet you all and share what’s fascinating about the brain!