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Our Team


Dr. Jessica J. Walsh (she/her)

Principal Investigator 

Dr. Walsh is dedicated to understanding the neural circuits underlying motivated behaviors and their dysfunction in psychiatric diseases. She hopes that this will aid in the development of new therapeutic targets to help people who suffer from these disorders. Her journey began at Columbia University volunteering in Dr. Gerald Fischbach's laboratory and earning her B.A. in Neuroscience & Behavior. During her graduate work, she explored the neural circuit mechanisms underlying social stress susceptibility and resilience phenotypes in Dr. Ming-Hu Han's laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Prior to joining the faculty at UNC, she completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, under the guidance of Dr. Robert Malenka, where she sought to investigate the neural circuit mechanisms and synaptic functions in genetic mouse models with social deficits. 


Dr. Heather Ortega (she/her)

Post-doctoral Fellow 

Heather aims to understand the neural basis of psychiatric disorders and their associated behavioral changes to pave the way for more effective treatments. She received dual bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Chemistry from UNC Chapel Hill and a PhD in Neuroscience from Yale University. In her PhD work with Dr. Alex Kwan, Heather investigated the roles of acetylcholine and norepinephrine during competitive gameplay in mice. In the Walsh lab she is working on developing new behavioral paradigms to assess specific symptoms of psychiatric disorders. When not teaching her mice the latest behavioral trend, Heather enjoys gardening and spending time with her husband (Patrick) and dogs (Suki, Pinto, and Beans).

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Pierre Llorach (he/him)

Ph.D. Graduate Student 

Pierre received his B.S. in Cognitive Science with a Neuroscience emphasis from UC Davis. He then joined the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) as a Clinical Study Assistant where he aided in phase 2/3 clinical trials investigating the efficacy of MDMA assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD. Following his time at MAPS, he wanted to learn how to probe the molecular mechanisms behind novel treatments from the basic science perspective and joined Dr. Boris Heifets at Stanford University as a Life Science Researcher. In the Walsh lab, Pierre hopes to investigate and characterize GPCR signaling in-vivo leveraging circuit and cellular techniques.


Sarah McDaniel (she/her)

Research Technician

Sarah graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology and minor in biology. She is interested in understanding how genetic and environmental factors impact neural function in neurodevelopmental disorders. Her ultimate goal is to become a significant contributor to the development and implementation of cutting-edge therapeutics to treat these conditions to improve the daily lives of those affected by these disorders.


Ruby Ashman (she/her)

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Ruby is a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill, majoring in Chemistry. She is interested in the therapeutic and medicinal use of potent and broadly acting psychoactive compounds, such as MDMA and psilocybin. She hopes to gain an understanding of the neurological pathways involved in social impairments present in a variety of neurological disorders, and how these drugs can be used to develop new treatment options. Volunteering in the Walsh Lab has helped her pinpoint her interest of pursuing a career in research. 


Caroline Hertweck (she/her)

Undergraduate Research Assistant 

Caroline is a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill, pursuing a degree in Biology. She is interested in understanding the neurological basis of developmental disorders and the advancement of pharmacological drugs to aid with treatment. She wishes to develop a better understanding of neural circuits within the brain and how they are altered in neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. The Walsh lab has been a great way to focus her research interests.


Anish Kodali (he/him)

Undergraduate Research Assistant 

Anish is a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in neuroscience. He is interested in understanding the neural circuits underlying psychiatric disorders and is volunteering in the Walsh Lab to acquire hands-on experience. He hopes to gain an understanding of the techniques used in neuroscience research and apply them to questions in the future. He is interested in pursuing medical school or graduate school. 


Kirti Muthaiah (she/her)

Undergraduate Research Assistant 

Kirti Muthaiah is a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Neuroscience with an interest in a dual major in Nutrition. She is intrigued by the neural circuits involved in psychiatric disorders and volunteers at the Walsh Lab to delve into functional and anatomical brain mapping, neurodevelopment, and genetic mutations that influence behavior. Kirti aspires to master neuroscience research techniques and apply them to address pressing questions. Her ultimate goal is medical school where she hopes to pursue a career in surgery.

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Nolan Johnson (he/him)

Undergraduate Research Assistant 

Nolan is a rising senior at North Carolina A&T State University pursuing a degree in Kinesiology. He's interested in learning the impact of neurological conditions on brain function. He aims to expand his knowledge on treatment options and techniques to alleviate these conditions. Nolan is excited to join the Walsh lab and plans to use the knowledge he gains in medical school.

Lab Alumni


Niccolo Luftig (they/them)

Undergraduate Research Assistant 

Niccolo is a first-year undergraduate at UNC majoring in Neuroscience. They are interested in the neural circuits that underly emotion, motivated behavior, and conscious cognition, and hope to conduct research on these concepts in the future. Additionally, Niccolo is interested in applying their interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning to neuroscience research, which is what brings them to the Walsh Lab. They hope to one day use new concepts found in neuroscience research to advance the abilities of artificial intelligence and its development.


Emma Walsh (she/her)

Research Assistant

Emma is a recent alumnus of Grinnell College where she studied Biology. She will be applying to medical school next year to pursue her passion for patient mental health care, specifically for children with neurodevelopmental disorders. At the Walsh lab, she is excited to learn methods of neuropharmacology and psychiatric disorder research to enhance her future practice of medicine.


Khondamir Imomnazarov (he/him)

Summer Undergraduate Intern

Khondamir is a rising senior at Grinnell College, where he studies Biochemistry and Neuroscience. He is interested in molecular biology, pharmacology, and neuroscience. Impressed by the range of novel techniques the Walsh lab uses to record, activate, and depress the activity of neural circuits, he joined the lab to gain insight into the research of psychiatric disorders and neuropharmacology on a circuit level. 

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