Julie H. Simpson received an AB from Princeton in Molecular Biology with research experience in fruit fly eye development. She did a year of rice viral genetics in Costa Rica, and then a PhD at UC Berkeley in axon guidance at the fly embryonic midline. After a post-doc at University of Wisconsin, Madison, studying temperature sensitive ion channels and screening for neurons affecting fly motor control, she was one of the early Group Leaders at the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She ran a research group using the new tools for targeting and manipulating neuronal activity with temperature and light to map circuits governing a range of behaviors. She joined UC Santa Barbara in 2015, where her lab performs genetic screens for critical neurons and circuits that govern fly grooming behavior.
We study the way the nervous system organizes complex behaviors. Sensory neurons respond to external and internal stimuli, interneurons process and compare this information, and motor neurons act in combinations and sequences to execute appropriate behavioral responses. The algorithms that choose and coordinate behaviors, and the exact neural circuits that implement these algorithms, are accessible in genetic model systems such as the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. We dissect the neurons involved in fly grooming using machine vision and limb tracking, genetic tools to target neurons for screens, and optogenetic and functional imaging methods to determine how networks of neurons control useful behaviors.