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Hunter Alumna Heads Research Lab at Rockefeller University

Vanessa Ruta, Hunter Chemistry alumna (1999), was recently inducted as the head of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University. She earned her PhD at Rockefeller in 2005 and joined the staff as an assistant professor in September 2011.

Her current research explores how experience modifies neural mechanisms. She will initially focus on the complex courtship ritual that male fruit flies perform, and how they learn to suppress the ritual if rejected by a female. This suggests the neural circuits enacting the courtship ritual are altered through the experience.  

In addition, her research will catalog how the circuits become modified and how those modifications, in turn, alter behavior. "Understanding how these circuits change will help us understand our own brain's ability to adapt, learn and remember, and might suggest what goes wrong in neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disease," Ruta said.

Of her Hunter experience, she says, "I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in the labs of both Mike Drain in Chemistry and Laurel Eckhardt in Biology, which provided me with two distinct formative experiences in laboratory research that ultimately helped to shape my interests."  

She commented that Hunter's research culture acquainted her with the necessary scientific questions and techniques, and went on to say, "Being at Hunter inspired me to be a little more proactive about seeking out opportunities to learn, perhaps because Hunter faculty were so receptive to the inquiries of students. That persistence and proactiveness translates well to the trials of graduate work."

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