Viviana Gradinaru, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

Professor of Neuroscience and Biological Engineering

Heritage Principal Investigator

Director of the Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience Center of the Chen Institute at Caltech

Dr. Viviana Gradinaru completed her B.S. at Caltech and her Ph.D. research at Stanford University and is now a Professor of Neuroscience and Biological Engineering at Caltech. Dr. Gradinaru’s research interests focus on developing tools and methods for neuroscience (optogenetic actuators and sensors; tissue clearing and imaging; gene delivery vehicles) and using them to characterize circuits underlying locomotion, reward, and sleep, with the goal to inform deep brain stimulation (DBS) and better understand the underlying mechanisms of action.

Prof. Gradinaru has received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and has been honored as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist and as one of Cell’s 40 under 40. Gradinaru is also a Sloan Fellow, Pew Scholar, Moore Inventor, Vallee Scholar, and Allen Brain Institute NGL Council Member, and received the inaugural Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award by the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. In 2017 she was the Early-Career Scientist Winner in the Innovators in Science Award in Neuroscience (Takeda and the New York Academy of Sciences) and in 2018 she received a Gill Transformative award.

Viviana Gradinaru has also been very active in teaching and service, participating with lab members in regular technology training workshops at Caltech and for summer courses at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as well as running the CLOVER Center (Beckman Institute for CLARITY, Optogenetics and Vector Engineering), which provides training and access to the group's reagents and methods for the broader research community.

Detailed Research Program

Min Jee Jang, Ph.D.

Caltech Divisional Postdoctoral Fellow

Min received her BS, MS and PhD in Bio and Brain Engineering at KAIST. Her doctoral thesis focused on developing algorithms for quantitative analysis of large-scale calcium imaging data. Before joining Caltech, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Korea University on developing macro-scale 3D imaging and digital reconstruction methods using tissue clearing technique. In the Gradinaru lab, Min is interested in computational approaches to reconstruct the cellular structure of cleared tissue.

Elliott Robinson, M.D., Ph.D.

CTF Postdoctoral Fellow

Elliott got his B.S. from Georgetown University and his MD/PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His graduate work focused on the consequences of the OPRM1 A118G polymorphism on reward circuitry and was co-mentored by C.J. Malanga (UNC) and Markus Heilig (NIAAA). Elliott also collaborated with Bryan Roth to help validate the kappa opioid receptor DREADD (KORD) and spent the majority of his fourth year of medical school in Garret Stuber's lab learning optogenetic techniques and honing his skills as an electrophysiologist. In the Gradinaru Lab, Elliott will study dopaminergic circuits in a model of Neurofibromatosis Type 1 as part of a Children's Tumor Foundation Young Investigator Award.

Anat Kahan, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Anat received her BS, MS and PhD in Physical Chemistry in The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Her doctoral thesis, under the supervision of Prof. Yehuda Haas, focused on environmental effects on ultrafast molecular photo-induced reactions in condensed phase. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Yoram Ben-Shaul’s lab at The Hebrew University on discrimination between socially related cues in the accessory olfactory bulb. In the Gradinaru lab, Anat is interested in the effect of behavioral stress on reproduction, using tissue clearing, viral tracing, electrophysiology and optogenetic techniques.

Máté Borsos, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Máté received his BSc and MSc in genetics and developmental biology from ELTE, Budapest, Hungary. During his studies, he worked on chromosome segregation in the mouse oocyte at the Tachibana lab, Vienna, Austria; and on DNA methylation and transposon control in the male germline at the Bourc’his lab, Paris, France. Máté did his PhD in the Torres-Padilla lab in Munich, Germany collaborating with Jop Kind’s laboratory. His work focused on 3D genome organization in the preimplantation mouse embryo. He mapped Lamina Associated Domains (LADs) genome-wide in single cells of embryos and identified epigenetic processes that could play a role in LAD formation upon fertilization. In the Gradinaru lab, Máté aims to engineer novel rAAV variants to target the germline.

Sripriya Kumar, M.S.

Graduate Student

Biology and Biological Engineering

Priya received her B.Tech from Anna University, Chennai, India in 2010; and MS from University of Illinois at Chicago. Before starting her PhD at Caltech, she worked as a scientific researcher/lab manager in Dr. Gradinaru's lab for two plus years where she gained experience in developing molecular tools for neuroscience. As a graduate student, she is interested in engineering AAV capsids for broad applications.

Michael Altermatt, M.S.

Graduate Student


Michael received his B.S. and M.S. in Biotechnology from ETH Zurich. He completed his Master’s Thesis in the Bio Engineering Laboratory at ETH Zurich where he investigated the modulation of signaling in mammalian axons using a high-density MEA. In the Gradinaru Lab, Michael is applying optogenetics, in vivo optical imaging and electrical recordings to study neural circuits implicated in behavioral states.

Xiaozhe Ding, B.S.

Graduate Student


Xiaozhe received his BS from Tsinghua University, Bejing, China in 2014. Before joining Caltech, he was involved in multiple projects on structural biology and protein engineering. In the Gradinaru Lab, Xiaozhe is working on developing new molecular tools and viral vectors for neuroscience.

Gerry Coughlin, B.S.

Graduate Student, NSERC PGS-D Fellow


Gerry received a B.S. in Psychology, a B.S. in Primatology and a B.S. in Cellular, Molecular and Microbial Biology, all from the University of Calgary, Canada. During his undergraduate, Gerry investigated an array of research topics: how repeated seizures change the functional organization of the motor cortex, how cell adhesion molecules are involved in the development of hypothalamic nuclei, and how nanoparticles may be used to control liposome fusion. In the Gradinaru Lab, Gerry is taking a multi-pronged approach to studying how behavioural stress impinges upon reproduction. 

Tatyana Dobreva, B.S.

Graduate Student

Medical Engineering

Tatyana was granted her B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prior to joining as a graduate student in Medical Engineering, she worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Signal Processing Engineer and volunteered at Viviana's lab doing data analysis on AAV targeted evolution project and on image processing for light sheet fluorescence microscopy. Tatyana is co-advised by Viviana Gradinaru and Matt Thomson. In Viviana Gradinaru's lab, she is currently working on engineering Arc capsid protein for targeted RNA trafficking with a motivation to guide development of novel delivery methods and improve existing systemic gene delivery methods.

David Brown, B.S.

Graduate Student / Chen Graduate Fellow

Computation and Neural Systems

David received his B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan in 2014. Before collaborating with the Gradinaru Lab, he worked in Richard Andersen's lab doing data analysis for single-neuron electrical recordings in implanted human subjects, and developing a framework for controlling a robotic prosthetic arm. He was a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the AI group and worked on planning and decision-making algorithms for autonomous systems, and image analysis of comets. David is co-advised by Viviana Gradinaru and Matt Thomson, where he is applying automation technology to biological applications, such as machine learning for AAV targeted evolution.

Miggy Chuapoco, M.S.

Graduate Student

Biological Engineering

Miggy received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from Stanford University. Prior to joining the Gradinaru lab, Miggy developed carbon fiber electrodes designed to be used simultaneously with fMRI and optogenetics. As a graduate student in the Gradinaru lab, he is currently interested in engineering viral capsids to make novel vectors for research and therapeutic applications.

Miggy is in Biological Engineering program in the NIH/NIGMS Biotechnology Leadership Predoctoral Program in Micro/Nanomedicine at Caltech.

Xinhong Chen, B.S.

Graduate Student / Chen Graduate Fellow


Xinhong received his B.S. in Biotechnology from Tongji University, China in 2017. He studied the genetic impact on Alzheimer's Disease using Drosophila and led a iGEM team manipulating C. elegans with Optogentics whist at college. Prior to joining Caltech as a student in Neurobiology program, he did his undergraduate thesis in Kay Tye's lab at MIT focusing on the circuit underlying alcohol addiction. In the Gradinaru Lab, he is developing tools to study the interaction between Neuron System and Immune System.

Acacia Hori, B.A.

Graduate Student / USC-Caltech MD-PhD

Biological Engineering

Acacia received a B.A. in Neuroscience in 2013 from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. In her undergraduate research, she explored a range of topics involving medical therapies, including transplantation of engineered stem cells for epilepsy and vaccine production strategies for underdeveloped countries. After graduating, she worked as a lab technician for the Shorter group at the University of Pennsylvania, investigating the role of molecular chaperones in protein folding of disease substrates. After completing the preclinical curriculum at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, she has joined the Gradinaru lab, where she is investigating gene therapy applications for diseases affecting the nervous system. Acacia is part of the USC-Caltech MD-PhD program.

David Goertsen, B. ASc.

Graduate Student

Biological Engineering

David received his B. ASc. in 2017 from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. During his undergraduate, David worked with the iGEM teams at UBC, engineering functional cellulase enzymes to express on the surface of C. crescentus and characterizing CRISPR/Cas9 in A. tumefaciens for crop protection. Between graduation and starting his PhD, David researched the degradation of environmental toxins using a genetically engineered bacteria and developed technology to scale the production of human pluripotent stem cells in vitro. In the Gradinaru lab, he is researching the AAV capsid and the production machinery of AAV to improve the production capacity of gene therapy vectors.

Umesh Padia, B.S.

Eric Schmidt Scholar

Software Engineer

Umesh received his B.S. in Computer Science from Caltech in 2019. Prior to joining the Gradinaru Lab, Umesh worked in David Baltimore’s lab on the characterization of immune repertoires, the development of TCR models, and the development of intron retention models. He also worked in the Gershengorn laboratory at NIDDK/NIH on in silico and in vitro identification of agonists for the TSH and the TRH receptors. In 2019, Umesh was selected as a Schmidt Scholar to lead the translation of cutting-edge research in the Gradinaru Lab to widely-used software.

Elisha Mackey, B.S.

Lab Manager

Pat Anguiano

Administrative Assistant

Gradinaru Lab over the Years