Virtual Reality on a Night Out

By Trisha Lala

Think of your favorite bar: Is it a lowkey locale with a fantastic menu? Is it a barely lit bar with a great sound system? Or is it a very humid basement location that could use some more airflow and is packed to the brim on 90’s night (I think we all know where I’m talking about)? A good bar can improve your mood and set the tone for your night by providing you a great experience.

 A recent trend for  bars is to include activities for their patrons. Some bars now have board games, video games, bingo, bocce ball, bowling, shuffleboard, pool, and arcade games. What could be more fun than being out at a bar where you can enjoy the company of others while playing a game? The Revery is Atlanta’s first adult-only virtual reality bar, conveniently located in Midtown near Ponce City Market. The Revery has revolutionized what you can expect on a night out.

Danny Lustberg (MSP program) and Trisha Lala (NS program) at The Revery

Owners Vincent Wynn II and Michael Rudolph were inspired by Korean karaoke rooms.  The Revery’s goal is to create a fluid social atmosphere where its patrons can enjoy ambience with great lighting, music, a full stage, amazing (my friends and I would say, dangerous) drinks, all while friends take turns playing virtual reality games!

For $40/hour a group of up to 6 (although larger rooms accommodate more people for a higher rate) can take turns playing virtual reality games. Does this sound boring for those not playing the game? Hardly! The rest of the group can listen to fantastic music by local DJ’s, sip yummy cocktails and chat while a friend makes a fool of themselves playing one of the many games they offer. The games are for any skill level and range from combat games to sports, with new games circulating in regularly!        

In addition to this jovial application, virtual reality has many practical clinical uses. VR Therapy, also known as Virtual Reality Immersion Therapy, a form of exposure therapy,can  be used to treat fear disorders, such as PTSD. Emory’s own Dr. Barbara Rothbaum has found that this technology is an accurate way to trigger responses of the limbic system.Upon use of this technology, patients display increased cortisol levels and higher heart rate. This technology can also treat autism, stroke patients, and help  train soldiers. And now, this powerful technology can even make a night out a little more interesting.

It is fascinating to think how this technology affects our experiences on a night out. How are our brains affected by virtual reality? Virtual reality has been found to activate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The DLPFC is thought to reflect the experience of “presence”. Presence refers to “subjective feeling of being in a virtual environment while being transiently unaware of one’s real location and surroundings and of the technology that delivers the stream of virtual input to the senses” (Jäncke et al, 2009). The DLPFC, which receives combined inputs from a variety of structures, integrates the sensory input that VR provides and creates a subjective experience.

Perhaps the most alluring aspect of VR technology is how it can be uniquely designed  for each patient. For example, patients with anxiety disorders can show a range of phenotypes and VR provides the platform to individually treat each patient.

The burgeoning research in this field reflects its great utility. VR must also activate the hippocampus as we generate spatial and episodic memories. In fact, the Singer lab (shout out to Nuri Jeong, Steph Prince, Lou Blanpain, and our Editor-in-Chief Kristie Garza, members of this amazing lab) uses augmented reality to understand the neural correlates of learning and memory (virtual reality is a fully immersive experience while augmented reality is a visual enhancement of reality)!

As technology shapes our daily experiences more and more, it is interesting to think about how our social lives and activities will also be constructed by technology in the coming future. I am even more excited to see how this technology will be utilized to treat patients as more is learned about how it affects the brain. But in the meantime, check out the Revery VR bar and have a great time!

Follow the Revery VR on instagram: @revery_vr !


Jancke L, Cheetham M, Baumgartner T (2009) Virtual reality and the role of the prefrontal cortex in adults and children. Front Neurosci 3:52-59.


Best of SfN 2018

By Stephanie Foster

The Society for Neuroscience annual meeting has come and gone as quickly as a Byrd scooter speeding along the sidewalks of San Diego. (Really though, scooters have taken over that city.) With close to 30,000 attendees each year, SFN is a monster of a conference. Because of its sheer size, it’s nearly impossible to attend every talk, poster, and social that might appeal to you. If you were unable to attend SFN this year – or if you went and were simply unable to be in four places at once – here is an overview of some of the major conference highlights.

Presidential Special Lecture by Bryan Roth – I had heard that Bryan Roth was an amusing speaker, and this lecture proved those rumors to be true! Roth, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill who is perhaps best known for developing the chemogenetic tool DREADDs, gave a lecture entitled” From Salvia Divinorum to LSD: Toward a Molecular Understanding of Psychoactive Drug Actions”. He started his lecture with an entertaining video of a man experiencing salvia-induced hallucinations. He then discussed how his lab discovered that salvinorin A, the active compound in the salvia

plant, selectively binds the kappa opioid receptor to exert its effects. Roth also discussed his lab’s more recent publication of the crystal structure of an LSD-bound serotonin receptor. By understanding the crystal structure of key G-protein coupled receptors, Roth envisions that scientists will be able to identify compounds that will become the next generation of psychiatric pharmacotherapies. He finished his talk with a description of his drug discovery program, in which novel compounds can be tested against the entire human GPCR-ome in massively parallel screens.

David Kopf Lecture on Neuroethics by BJ Casey – This was a phenomenal talk that demonstrated how cutting edge neuroscience can be used to guide policy. Casey, a professor at Yale University, has long argued that immature cognitive function should be considered when assessing whether an adolescent should be charged as an adult for a crime. Her most recent work has shown that while adolescents may be similar to adults regarding cognitive abilities, their psychosocial maturity is not yet fully developed, rendering them more likely to make poor choices due to peer or emotional influences. Casey ended her talk with an emotional call to action, urging that we use developmental neuroscience to protect adolescents from the trauma that many face when treated as an adult in the judicial system.

#MeTooSTEM events – In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women in STEM fields are also speaking out about their experiences and advocating for a culture shift in academia. New to SFN this year, a room was reserved during the conference to provide a dedicated space where people could share their experiences and discuss ways to affect change. This movement was also recognized during the Celebration of Women in Neuroscience Luncheon that occurred later during the conference.

Laney Reception – Emory SFN attendees were invited to spend an evening at the house of Laney Graduate School alumnus Dr. William Rice. Attendees enjoyed delicious appetizers and drinks while networking with alumni of the Neuroscience program. Students were able to get advice regarding careers in industry, patent law, teaching, and more. But the most popular guest was Dr. Rice’s adorable dog, who wore a leopard print coat and spent the night begging unsuspecting people for meatballs.

Art of Neuroscience Exhibit – Do you love science-themed crafts? Then this exhibit would have been for you!SFN invited artists to showcase their neuroscience-themed work during the conference. The exhibit featuredhandcrafted jewelry, pillows decorated with hand-stitched, rainbow colored brains, scarves with neuronsprinted on them, and a number of watercolors andphotographs.

As you can see, one of SFN’s strengths is that it has a little something for everyone. From science and socials to art and activism, this conference offers many opportunities to look at neuroscience from a new angle. If this appeals to you, consider attending Society for Neuroscience 2019 in Chicago!

Finding Stress Relief Shouldn’t Be Stressful!: A Guide to Mental Health Resources for Students

By Lindsey Shapiro

With the new semester up and running, we are all bombarded with hectic schedules, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Many students find that seeking counseling, wellness, and stress relief services help them navigate stressful times throughout their graduate training. Lucky for us, Emory provides a host of these resources for graduate students. Unluckily, it can be difficult to find detailed information about the resources available to us and how we can access them. Here is a description of some of these great resources and how you can find them for when grad school life gets stressful.

Emory Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has several programs to help students navigate difficulties experienced during grad school. While most students are aware that counseling services are available to them, the number of sessions has been a recent subject of debate. CAPS utilizes what they term a “brief therapy model”, in which students are entitled to 6-8 free and confidential counseling sessions at CAPS, depending on individual needs. If your needs extend beyond this, CAPS will provide you with assistance in finding other resources at Emory, or a long-term provider outside of Emory that works with your insurance plan.

To access CAPS counseling sessions, just call CAPS or stop by the CAPS office to schedule an initial intake assessment. Unlike most appointments made through student health, these CAPS sessions cannot be scheduled online. At the initial assessment, a CAPS provider will chat with you about your counseling needs. Following this assessment, you will be assigned a counselor for the remainder of your sessions. Your counselor will work with you to determine how many sessions will best suit you. All counselors at CAPS are either licensed therapists or therapists in training. If you are paired with a counselor in training, it is likely that they will ask to videotape your sessions. This is simply for their training purposes, and will never be seen outside of CAPS. If it still makes you uncomfortable, CAPS will work with you to find another counselor.

GMB students enjoying therapy dogs from Canine Assist at last year’s wellness week.

In addition to individual counseling sessions, CAPS provides a number of other services that are free for students, including a 4-week stress clinic, which combines biofeedback techniques with didactic training on stress relief and anxiety management. Further, on Wednesdays from 5-6:30 p.m, CAPS offers a graduate student group session. To access any of these group sessions, you can call CAPS and schedule an initial appointment. CAPS is also home to two adorable therapy dogs, Beowulf and Finn. That $80-dollar mental health/counseling fee that appears on your registration bill every semester supports these CAPS sessions. All of the services described above come at no additional cost. You’re already paying for it – so you might as well use it!

Emory Student Health also provides free psychiatric services for all enrolled Emory students, including evaluation, long-term management, and referrals to other care providers. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you are not sure what to do next, CAPS and student health services also offer a free, anonymous, online stress and depression questionnaire so you can check in on how you are doing and receive a personalized response from a counselor ( You can also contact Emory Student Intervention Services (SIS) to help you find the best resources to deal with your stress.

Hidden on the bottom of a Campus Recreation and Wellness webpage is a statement that all Emory students are entitled to a free wellness session per semester through the Emory Wellness Program- but this has never been well advertised to us! These sessions

are sit-down meetings with a wellness coach to discuss goals and strategies for improving the “holistic self”. It is also a chance to chat with the coach about campus wellness resources and opportunities for fitness training. In grad school, it can be easy to lose track of your mental and physical health when things get busy- this is a great opportunity to check back in with yourself during stressful times. As with the CAPS counseling, we pay student activity fees which cover these sessions. Keep your eyes out for other monthly wellness activities at Emory. In the past, Campus Recreation and Wellness hosted Stress Awareness month, with offerings including information sessions with CAPS, free yoga classes, 5k runs, and free chair massages.

Guided Meditation Session with Emory Buddhist Club. Photo Courtesy of Emory Buddhist Club facebook page.

If the services provided by CAPS and student health aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities that students engage in for stress relief. For example, The Emory Buddhist club hosts weekly guided meditation sessions, at which all students are welcome. A range of ordained Buddhist teachers from local organizations guide the meditation session each week.  The goal of these sessions is to relieve stress and anxiety, heighten focus, and sharpen mental capabilities. Sessions are held every Thursday from 6-7 p.m. in Canon Chapel. If you’re interested in something a bit more active, Emory University Hospital offers free yoga classes to all Emory faculty, staff, and students- free of charge.Both basic Yoga and deep stretch are offered on a bi-weekly basis.


Last year, the Genetics and Molecular Biology Program (GMB) piloted a wellness week for the students in their program. This wellness week included information sessions with CAPS, running groups, healthy food potlucks, and therapy dogs, among other things. Given its success, this may become a GDBBS wide event in the future- so keep your eyes out for other upcoming wellness events! As grad students, we deal with lots of stressors every day, but there are lots of resources at Emory to help us work through it – and we should take advantage of them!


Numbers to Know:

CAPS: 404-727-7450

Emory Student Health: 404 -727-7551

Student Intervention Services: 404.430.1120 or

Wellness Sessions: 404-712-1357 or



Retreat Recap

By Rachel Pearcy and Kristie Garza

The annual Neuroscience Program Retreat took place over the last weekend in August at a new venue, Callaway Gardens. At this new location, we were able to partake in our usual traditions, such as meeting the incoming first years, throwing candy during trivia, and determining if students are better than professors at flip cup (we are), and our retreat planning team took advantage of the new location to start some new traditions!

The winners of ice breaker bingo with their amazon gift card prizes. L to R: Maria Briscione, Chethan Pandarinath, Nuri Jeong, Sydney Sunna

Retreat began with a round of icebreaker bingo, where each bingo square contained a fun fact submitted by a student or faculty member in attendance. Everyone mixed and mingled to find individuals who submitted the fun facts listed on their bingo card. A winner was crowned from the first years (Sydney Sunna), older students (Nuri Jeong), and faculty (Chethan Pandarinath). The game was serious business, as the winners won $25 Amazon gift cards! The morning session continued with a discussion led by Pat Marstellar on mentorship. The discussion focused on strategies for being a good mentor and mentee, an important subject for both grad students and faculty members.

After lunch, there was an enlightening alumni panel, where NS alums Kristen Thomas, Tom Hennessey, Vas Michopoulos, and Eric Maltbie, provided tips for “hacking graduate school.” Pearls of wisdom from the panelists included, “Always have a backup project” and “Don’t expect things to go the way you think they will.”

Second year, Mallika Halder, shows off her team (The Egg-gineers) creation!

Following the panel discussion, Andrea Pack led the retreat attendees in a new team-building activity, “The Egg Drop Challenge.” Everyone was assigned a team, and team members had to create a device to protect a raw egg from an 8-foot fall using only the materials provided: limited supplies of pipe cleaners, parafilm, string, paper, lab gloves, and masking tape. After the time limit expired, the teams streamed outside to watch our beloved Gary Longstreet drop the egg-carrying creations. While a few groups managed to survive the first fall, only one group made it to the end: Team 9 (also known as the Whos of Whoville). This winning team included Samantha Reed, Matthew Stern, Zeena Ammar, Archana Venkataraman, Adriana Galvan, and Sam Sober, a group of skilled craftswomen and men who engineered the safest egg landing ever (according to Archana).

After the commencement of the morning activities, retreat attendees were given free time to explore Callaway Gardens. Many attendees chose to check out the “beach.” While others explored the butterfly garden. (For more information on the available free time activities, see the Welcome to Callaway Gardens article in The Central Sulcus Retreat Edition.) During the free time, our first and second year DGS, Sam Sober, introduced a new event: Bourbon Tasting. The catch was that this exciting event was only available to first years and one invited guest. Not to worry, a cocktail happy hour open to all attendees followed the bourbon tasting and the two blended into one big happy party.

The winning trivia team, The Seroti-nerds. L to R: Michelle Johnson, Malu Tansey, Maka Provost, Thomas Kukar, Sam Sober, Cheyenne Hurst, Kristie Garza, James McGregor, and April Ratliff (not pictured: Henry Kietzman)

After free time, attendees met to enjoy roasted chicken followed by a plethora of desserts. Following dinner was the annual retreat trivia, hosted by Randy Hall. People divided into teams, the lights were dimmed, and Trivia began. As always, Randy excelled as trivia host, with question topics including Aretha Franklin, The Hidden Brain Podcast (a reference to The Central Sulcus Retreat Edition), and the Peachtree Road Race. For the first time in Neuroscience Trivia history, trivia ended in a three-way tie. Luckily, Randy was prepared with the ultimate tie-breaker question: “What was the total number of attendees at last year’s Society for Neuroscience Conference?” With the closest answer of 31,169, The Seroti-nerds were the winning team (pictured right)! Each member of the team received creative, two-toned, homemade candles molded in 500mL beakers. As is tradition, the team was celebrated by a shower of candy thrown in their direction.

Neuroscience Alum, Eric Maltbie, helps Andrea and Sam remind us about the beauty that was Forest Hills.

Before the night festivities continued, Andrea Pack and Sam Sober performed a skit to remind us we did not want to get kicked out of this location, which, as luck would have it, we happened to be sharing with a sheriff’s convention! After being reminded of the Forest Hill green carpet and mirrored bed-side hot tubs, everyone dutifully cleaned up the thrown candy. The night continued with the yearly flip-cup games and dance party, with Byron Gardner as DJ. Unlike other years, our dance party venue closed at 11pm, so an after-party continued in one of the cottages.

The next morning, retreat attendees scattered through the breakfast buffet and were allowed to continue exploring Callaway at their leisure. While the new retreat site made us end our party early, we were still able to continue our usual retreat festivities and even established new traditions. Special thanks to the retreat planning committee, Maria Briscione, Erin King, Andrea Pack, and Archana Venkataraman!

Until next year!

6th Annual Neuroscience Graduate Program Awards Ceremony

The annual Graduates in Neuroscience (GIN) Awards ceremony is an opportunity to dress black-tie and celebrate students and faculty alike, and the perfect way to end another long academic year. Each year, members of our Neuroscience Community are recognized for outstanding achievements in scholarship, research and service. This year’s event was a great success, with fantastic food, libations, and even a photo booth!

Congratulations, winners!

Scientific Outreach: Lyndie Wood

Lyndie - Service

Lyndie repeatedly demonstrates her love for scientific outreach. She is about to complete her term as Student Representative of the Atlanta Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, during which time she has organized a Classroom Matching Program which connects local scientists and teachers for outreach opportunities. This amazing program has reached 50 local classrooms, helping teach more than 4,000 students! Additionally, she visits the Atlanta Children’s Shelter to teach homeless preschoolers in their summer program. If that isn’t enough to keep her busy, Lyndie is also working on creating neuroscience teaching materials and lesson plans for students and she teaches a week-long neuroscience module for 7th grade students. Lyndie clearly values scientific outreach and promotes positive change in our local communities.

University Service: Mary Herrick

Mary.jpgMary has repeatedly demonstrated her commitment to giving back to her Emory community. She was elected GSGA Executive Vice President, the second highest graduate position on Emory’s campus. She was instrumental in “restructuring SGA to allow GSGA to act as an autonomous body.”  In addition, she served as Secretary of the LGSC. She is now President of LGSC for the 2018-2019 academic year, where she hopes to continue to give back to her community at Emory. She has improved our university during her time at Emory and is extremely deserving of the University Service Award this year!

Leadership: Archana Venkataraman 

ArchanaArchana has demonstrated her leadership skills repeatedly as President of GIN. Archana’s positive attitude and willingness to get involved sets her apart as a leader. As president, she has helped organize retreat, promote GIN events, and is truly invested in “fostering a strong sense of community within our program”. She has served as Frontiers Coordinator, as Neuroscience Graduate Student Representative, and helped organize the Neurobuddy Program. We look forward to the improvements she and her co-president will bring about in the coming year!

Outstanding Early Scientific Achievement: Dan Li

Dan, an MD/PhD student, has taken the Neuroscience Program by storm. He has already published four papers with another in submission and yet another in preparation! In addition, Dan submitted an NRSA F30 to NIMH that was funded upon first submission, with an incredible 6th percentile score.

Liz and Dan

Outstanding Scientific Achievement: Elizabeth Barfield

Liz’s outstanding scientific achievement started early in her graduate career, when she was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2015. This past winter alone, she published a first-author paper in the high impact journal ,Plos Biology and another in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience! More recently, she submitted a whopping 17,000 word review paper! In total, she has published five manuscripts, presented ten posters and given seven oral presentations. Liz also presented at Frontiers this Spring, one of the highest honors in the Neuroscience Program. She is clearly very deserving of the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award!

Excellence in Teaching: Rachel Cliburn Branco


Rachel has demonstrated her love for teaching repeatedly during her time at Emory. She has served as teaching staff and Teacher’s Assistant for several courses at Emory and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Rachel was also Teaching Assistant for two Emory Neuroscience in Paris study abroad trips! Additionally, she has designed and implemented two courses: “Drugs and Society” and “Neuroscience and Literature”. Her many accomplishments make her extremely deserving of the Excellence in Teaching award this year!


Excellence in Mentorship: Maria Briscione-Vizza

Maria was my student mentor when I started my first rotation in Dr. Ellen Hess’ lab; thus, it is no surprise to me that she won the award for excellence in mentorship. Maria has mentored nine students during her time as a PhD student. She shares her passion for science, teaches her students the realities of research, and has facilitated presentations via a Junior Journal Club to engage students in the larger questions of research. Maria recognizes the importance of a mentor in molding budding scientists and has always strived to enhance the student-lab experience.

GIN Student Service: Erin King


Although she was not a member of GIN, Erin has clearly demonstrated her support for the Neuroscience program by going out of her way to assist with recruitment. Additionally, she has played a critical role in setting up and organizing the recruitment poster sessions. She is very much deserving of this service award. We can’t wait to see how Erin continues to improve the Neuroscience Program as she begins her term as President of GIN!

GIN Faculty of the Year: Sam Sober, Ph.D

Sam Sober.JPG

Dr. Sam Sober is extremely committed to the students in the Neuroscience Program. Not only does he have a spectacular lab, but he also teaches several classes in IBS 526, for which he received Exemplary Lecturer of the Year Award in 2016. In addition to his lab and teaching, Dr. Sober has been a champion of the neuroscience  students, promoting transparency between faculty and students. He has been a major force for positive change. We look forward to working with Dr. Sober to improve our program further!

GIN Exemplary Lecturer: Randy Hall, Ph.D 

Every lecturer brings something new to the class, whether it is their novel teaching method, dynamic personality or entertaining anecdotes. Dr. Randy Hall stands out from this crowd. Randy has a dynamic personality and many entertaining anecdotes that add color to his classes. His IBS514 module was clear and concise, his lecturing style engaging and his excitement for the material contagious. His emphasis on taking class content one step further to test the boundaries of our understanding is what sets him apart as a lecturer, and he certainly deserved this year’s Exemplary Lecturer of the Year Award

Director’s Award for Extraordinary Leadership: Elizabeth Hinton & Lyndie Wood 

Lyndie and Zibby.JPG

This special award goes to students who have demonstrated extraordinary and outstanding leadership. Both Libby and Lyndie are more than deserving of this award. The sentiment is shared, as they received a standing ovation as they approached the stage to collect their award. This year alone, the pair were responsible for organizing two Town Hall meetings. They have advocated for improving policies and increasing awareness among all people involved in the neuroscience program, working to improve transparency between faculty and students. Theyalso established the Peer Liaison position in GIN. Their overall commitment to causing positive change and improving our program is extremely admirable.

Calabrese/Smith Neuroscience Service Award: David Weinshenker, Ph.D

Dr. David Weinshenker has served as Director of the Neuroscience program for the past three years and has consistently advocated for his students during this time. His ability to be a phenomenal mentor, professor and program director are certainly the reason he is the recipient of the Neuroscience Service Award.

The students and faculty who received this year’s GIN Awards were extremely impressive in not only academics but also university service. Each person has contributed something unique to our program. Congratulations, winners!Gary.JPG

Author: Trisha Lala

Editors: Simone Campbell & Kristie Garza

Photography by: Zibby Hinton