Dr. Mason Klein

Assistant Professor
Spring 2017 class: PHY 202
email: klein@miami.edu
voice: (305) 284 7129
Fax: (305) 284 4222
Rm 318 , James L. Knight Physics Building
1320 Campo Sano Ave., Coral Gables, Fl. 33146



Research Summary:

What do animals do, and how exactly do their actions arise?  My lab's research is in biophysics and neuroscience.  We use insect model systems to better understand the transformation from sensory input to motor output, a fundamental goal of systems neuroscience.  This input-output path travels from the molecular basis of sensing stimuli, to the resulting activity of sensory neurons, to the encoding of sensory information in the brain, to the circuit-level processing of this information in neural networks, and finally to the animal's physical motor output. 

Investigating response at the molecular, cellular, network, and behavioral levels uses a variety of techniques.  For example, we measure neuronal activity in vivo using modified 3D spinning disk confocal microscopy to record calcium or voltage signals while delivering sensory stimuli.  As another example, we can observe animals responding to a randomly generated stimulus pattern, and use the resulting motor actions to construct mathematical filters that predict behavior.

More specifically we are currently interested in the fruit fly Drosophila and its response to temperature.  Taking advantage of the numerous available genetic tools for this animal, we can identify and characterize important neurons in the heat- and cold-response circuits, and uncovering the specific roles they play in behavioral response, especially navigation and the component strategies used to move toward more favorable conditions.  Collective motion very closely resembles a biased-random-walk form of diffusion, and of particular interest is the basis of randomness in behavior and how it is generated within the brain.

Essentially, our approach is to treat animal behavior like any other physical system, by identifying fundamental components and exploring how they work. This applies to how neurons transform information within the brain, and how insect behavior can be separated into modes, and how the rules governing transitions between these modes makes up an overall navigational strategy for survival.