My name is Leo Zsembik, and I am a junior majoring in psychology and biology with a minor in chemistry. I was born and grew up in Gainesville, Florida which gave me my appreciation for the natural world. However, it took me a while to find my passions as I started college as a math major. After a semester, I started to take neuroscience classes in both the psychology and biology departments and haven’t looked back. Mid way through my freshman year, I began doing research under Jason Stein in the Neuroscience Research Building. My previous research has focused on genome wide analyses including working with an international imaging consortium called ENIGMA to find locations of the genome that affect both brain structure and risk for neuropsychiatric disease.
I am currently working as a Gil Intern under Dr. Martin Styner in the Neuro Imaging Research and Analysis Laboratories. The laboratories have a wide range of projects from creating brain atlases of non-human models, such as monkeys, to early brain development studies that focus on Autism and other disorders. As an intern, I work with a wide range of people from the principal investigators of several labs to fellow undergraduates on related projects. It is striking how intelligent and devoted everyone in the lab is, while still finding time in their schedules for a conversation. Over our lab’s espresso machine, I have talked to people from Switzerland, China, France, and several other countries about topics that we all find fascinating. Dr. Styner and fellow principal investigator Guorong Wu take time out of their shockingly busy schedules to speak to me each week about my project and my future, and, every Thursday, I leave Dr. Styner’s office with a feeling of accomplishment and enrichment.
My current research focuses on longitudinal Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) based analysis to track changes in brain connectivity as Alzheimer’s Disease progresses in hopes of finding predictive signatures. The first step in my project this semester had me looking at hundreds of structural MRI images of brains upon which sophisticated algorithms delineated white matter from gray matter. However, no matter how complex the code, sometimes even computers are wrong. Thus, I looked through these images to ensure that the matter has be demarcated accurately so that the subsequent analyses would be done on sound data. After the structural MRI data, I did the same quality control procedure on the actual DTI tracts. This data will be used by not only my project, but on projects conducted in multiple laboratories well into the future. Currently, I am using programming packages to discern the differences between the connectivity in people at various stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Every day, I go into my internship and feel genuine excitement as I know what I am doing that day contributes to something larger than myself, and for that I only have the Gil Internship Program to thank.