Researchers & Support Staff

Our Team

Neal Cohen

Dr. Cohen is Professor in the Department of Psychology, the Neuroscience Program, and the Beckman Institute, and serves as the Director of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Initiative (IHSI) as well as of the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory (CNLM). His work on human learning and memory has been instrumental in identifying and characterizing multiple memory systems in the brain that support different aspects of performance, and has emphasized development of novel paradigms for assessment of different aspects or forms of memory. Work in the lab includes neuropsychological, functional imaging, and eye tracking studies of memory, together with intervention studies that use exercise, fitness, cognitive training, and nutrition to enhance learning and memory, across the lifespan, and computational modeling of memory. Current funding is by NIMH, NIA, NICHD, IARPA, IES, Abbott Nutrition, and Sandia National Laboratories
View Neal's Publications →

Michael Dulas

Michael received his Ph.D. in cognitive and brain sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2014. While there, he studied the effects of healthy aging on brain function and memory, using both ERP and fMRI. He is particularly interested in the role of PFC-mediated executive processes necessary to both encode and retrieve contextual memories, as well as how these processes change throughout the lifespan. Michael also received his M.S. in psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology (2011), as well as his B.S. in biopsychology and English from the University of Michigan (2007). Outside of the lab, Michael enjoys playing tennis, volleyball, and softball, going to the movies, and discovering new restaurants.

Heather Lucas

Heather is in her second year as a Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow. Her research interests are in the neural mechanisms that give rise to various expressions of memory and the changes that human memory systems undergo as a result of the aging process. Her work in the Memory Systems Laboratory examines the cognitive and neural changes to memory that occur in the course of typical aging, and how these changes differ in older adults who are risk for developing dementia. She completed her PhD in 2012 from the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, where she used ERPs and behavioral methods to examine interactions between processing fluency and experiences of recognition.

Rachael Rubin

Rachael is the Carle Foundation Hospital-Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in Cognitive Neuroscience. Rachael is interested in understanding how memory systems in the brain contribute to aspects of experience, including creativity, language use, and social interaction. Her research is focused on patient studies of hippocampal amnesia and traumatic brain injury. Rachael's current project in the Memory Systems Laboratory involves characterizing the neural mechanisms related to behavioral, cognitive, and social abilities following traumatic brain injury. Outside of the lab, Rachael loves being outside and spending time with her family and two dogs.

Hillary Schwarb

Hillary is a trained experimental psychologist with 14 years of experience applying neuroimaging techniques to answer questions about the organization and structure of the human brain. She currently works as a Research Scientist in both the Memory Systems Lab as well as the Biomedical Imaging Center at the Beckman Institute. Her recent work has been dedicated to understanding the structure and function of the hippocampus and surrounding medial temporal lobe structures. As a cognitive neuroscientist, she leverages multiple behavioral, eye-tracking, and neuroimaging (primarily structural MRI, functional MRI, and elastography) tools to explore the organization and control of the memory system. Incorporating magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) into her research has been exciting and groundbreaking as, for the first time, we have demonstrated that variations in the viscoelasticity of the hippocampus contribute to differences in behavior on a variety of cognitive assessments. We have also demonstrated a positive relationship between aerobic fitness and MRE derived hippocampal integrity and that hippocampal viscoelasticity mediates the relationship between fitness and memory performance among healthy young adults. She continues to develop new tests to assess relational memory abilities and to apply elastography techniques to investigate various cognitive processes in both healthy young and older participants as well as patient populations to get a more nuanced picture of structure-function relationships in the human brain. Hillary earned a Ph.D. in cognitive and brain sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2012. She also holds a M.S. in experimental psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology (2009) and B.A.’s in psychology and French literature from the University of Notre Dame (2005). In her free time she enjoys eating and hiking or anything where she can be outside and bring her dogs.

Patrick Watson

Patrick received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and is in his first year as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. NeaL Cohen. He received his B.S. in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Illinois in 2005. His graduate research attempts to develop a robust explanatory and quantitative framework to explain how the brain constructs and consolidates internal mental events such as episodic memories, plans, and imaginings. He uses a combination of theoretical, computational, behavioral, and neuropsychological work to identify the building blocks of mental experiments, and the rules that organize, bind together, and assemble those building blocks into complex internal representations. In addition to his work at the Beckman institute, he has collaborated with Sandia National Laboratories emerging brain maps project, and the IARPA ICArUS bio-inspired sensemaking project.

Judy Chiu

Judy is a senior graduate student in the Cognitive Neuroscience division of the Psychology department. Her research investigates the functional organization of episodic memory, such as item versus context processing, their neural substrates, as well as the interaction of emotion and these aspects of memory. In addition to the support of MSL, Judy enjoys collaborations with Professors Brian Gonsalves and Florin Dolcos, and uses eye-movement tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging methods in her research. Judy received a M.Sc. in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of York, UK (2007). She also holds a B.A. in English Literature and a B.B.A. in International Business Management from National Taiwan University (2005)

Kelsey Hassevoort

Kelsey is a graduate student in the Neuroscience program whose main program of research investigates the relationship between physical health factors - including aerobic fitness, body composition, and nutrition- and hippocampal function during childhood. To address these research questions, she utilizes behavioral, eye-tracking, physiological, and neuroimaging methods. Prior to coming to Illinois, Kelsey graduated with B.A. in Biology from Kalamazoo College (2012). In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, cooking, hiking, and spending time with family and friends on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Kevin Horecka

Kevin is in his last year at the Beckman Institute. He graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science from Texas Tech Univerity and was an Embedded and Vision Systems engineer at National Instruments for a number of years before switching focus to Computational Neuroscience. Kevins interests are varied but include Neural Networks, Machine Learning/Deep Learning, Data Visualization, Software/Systems Architectures, and Machine Vision. Kevin recently accepted a position as a Machine Learning Engineer at Walmart in Austin, TX. His other interests include music theory, science fiction, homebrewing, and coffee roasting.

John Walker

John is a graduate student in the Cognitive Neuroscience division of the Psychology Department whose primary research interests lie in the neural processes that contribute to retrieval of declarative memories. He uses a multimodal approach with methods ranging from eye-tracking to the event-related optical signal (EROS) to investigate both the conscious and the unconscious processes that take place during memory retrieval. John holds a B.S. in Cognitive Science from UCLA (2008).

Nick Parks

Nick graduated from the University of Illinois in 2013 with a B.S. in Psychology and began working as the Memory Systems Lab Manager in 2014. He spent most of his undergraduate career volunteering for Illini Emergency Medical Services, eventually becoming the President followed by the EMT-B Lead Instructor. Nick has also worked for several years at Carle Foundation Hospital in the Emergency Department, gaining invaluable experience for a hopeful career in medicine. For fun, Nick enjoys participating in mud runs (Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, etc.), reading, and learning anything about medicine that he can.

Nirav Patel

Nirav is a professional research assistant in the Memory Systems Lab. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Loyola University Chicago (2013) and completed his senior thesis on the neural correlates of political ideology using EEG methods. Prior to entering the MSL he worked at the Laboratory for Human Neuroscience at the Feinberg School of Medicine, where he assisted with various MRI and TMS studies investigating the neural impairments of behavior and thought. He spends his free time watching movies, playing games, and traveling.

Faizan Khawaja

Faizan is a fulltime Research Assistant for the Memory Systems Lab. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS in Molecular and Cellular Biology (2014) and hopes to pursue a career in Medicine. He is primarily involved in the Subjective Memory Impairments and FITKids studies where he works with older adults and children. In his free time he enjoys cooking, reading, and cycling.

Rachel Gonzalez

Rachel is a full time research assistant in the Memory Systems Lab. She received her B.S. from University of Illinois in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Psychology (2014). As an undergraduate in the Decision Neuroscience Lab (UIUC, PI Aron Barbey), she worked on projects on emotional reasoning, the neural correlates of counterfactual reasoning, and nutrition/cognition interactions in older adults. In her free time, she likes to bike, make visual art, and cook.

Alumni of the Lab

Carol Baym

Carol received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Illinois and is in her first year as a postdoctoral research associate with Dr. Neal Cohen. Carol is studying how nutritional intake and aerobic fitness affect memory development from infancy through early adulthood using behavioral and eye-tracking methods. She is researching the relationship between these lifestyle factors and cognitive development using a variety of techniques including cross-sectional, longitudinal, and intervention studies both in school and laboratory settings in collaboration with Professors Charles Hillman and Renee Baillargeon at Illinois. She also holds an M.A. from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2009) and a B.A from Northwestern University (2005). In her free time she enjoys skiing, hiking, yoga, rock climbing, whitewater anything, and coffee.

Jim Monti

Jim Monti is a PhD student in the Cognitive Neuroscience division of the Psychology department. He holds a BS (2006) and an MA (2011) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to entering the MSL lab at UIUC he worked at Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center. His overarching research interest consists of understanding the neural systems that give rise to memory, with a primary focus on the hippocampal-medial temporal lobe (MTL) system, and how it changes over the lifespan. Of particular interest are the cognitive and neurobiological effects of certain lifestyle factors on the aging hippocampal-MTL system, including physical fitness and exercise, nutrition, social engagement, and head trauma. An additional area of study is the development of cognitive tasks that are able to differentiate normal aging from very mild dementia, with a long-term research goal of detecting dementia in its earliest stages and preventing its development through various lifestyle interventions. Methods utilized to achieve these research goals include structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging, eye-tracking, and patient studies.

Ari Pence

Ari is the former Memory Systems Lab Manager and current IRB Compliance Officer. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Health (2012) and worked in the lab for 4 years, primarily assisting in research of mTBI and FITKids, before entering the University of Illinois College of Medicine Class of 2018. In her free time, she enjoys baking, running, and traveling.

Kelsey Campbell

Kelsey graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS in Psychology (2009). She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys reading, eating (a lot), cycling/running/spending time outdoors, and… oh, Netflix..

Want to get involved with our research?

If you are interested in gaining research experience and earning psychology course credit, we offer courses in which you will receive credit hours for your work in our lab. We also are currently looking for participants for our studies from a variety of populations.

Learn More