Adam Calhoun, Ph.D.

Princeton University
Portrait photo of Adam Calhoun

Adam Calhoun is a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University in the lab of Mala Murthy. He received his master of mathematics in pure mathematics from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where his dissertation was on semigroup theory. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego, in the labs of Tatyana Sharpee and Sreekanth Chalasani. His research focuses on understanding the neural circuits that underlie natural sensory-driven behaviors. He uses a combination of computational tools, theory and experiments to understand these behaviors across multiple time scales. Calhoun is currently developing new tools to automatically quantify behaviors and behavioral states. He is using these tools to understand how the brain produces behaviors in different ways depending on the state of the animal.

Project: Neural correlates of social decision-making

When a male fruit fly meets a female fly, he produces a courtship song by vibrating his wings. If the song meets the female’s exacting standards, she will allow him to mate. Each stage of the courtship requires sensory-based decisions. When deciding the type of song to sing — or whether to sing at all — the male integrates different types of information, such as the female’s distance and speed, his own speed, and the angle between them.

How does a nervous system accomplish all of these feats? How do sensory circuits compute features of the sensory world and then integrate them into a final decision? Drosophila song provides an excellent medium for studying decision-making because it is composed of just two syllables and is therefore easy to quantify. I aim to decipher these courting decisions by creating new statistical models to analyze both singing behavior and the neural activity that accompanies it. I will then use those models to detect when the fly changes its singing strategy, what sensory cues trigger those changes and, ultimately, the neural circuitry that drives those decisions. Lastly, I will test those models by dissecting and imaging the neural circuitry involved in mating decisions.

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