Research Associates


Qi Zhang, M.D./Ph.D., Research Associate

Inherited retinal degeneration is a group of heterogeneous eye diseases that cause blindness in human patients and animal models. I have been working in this field since my postdoctoral research, which involved genetic mapping of disease loci, searching for mutations responsible for eye disease phenotypes, genetics/genomics genotype analyses and diagnosis, study of gene function with natural or engineered mutations in animal models (knockout, knockin and knockdown), and gene therapy. As a scientist, I have a broad and in-depth knowledge of molecular/cellular/developmental biology, genetics/genomics, human disease modeling in animals, neuroscience and neurodegenerative diseases along with technical expertise in genetic linkage mapping, analyses of DNA/RNA and sequence data, vector design and construction, protein assays, cell culture, pathology, and microscopy.




Kyle Fisk, B.S., Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Graduate Student

I received my bachelors degree in Biology with a concentration in Molecular and BioMedical Sciences from Bridgewater State University in 2014. I went on to work at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA with Dr. Roger Hanlon. My work at the MBL gave me the opportunity to explore my fascination with microscopy (both light and electron), which I applied to imaging the intricate neural systems in cephalopods that allow these animals to produce complex behavioral displays in milliseconds. Currently, I am developing new applications of volumetric super-resolution microscopy for studying synaptic structure and refinement in the mammalian retina and suprachiasmatic nucleus.

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Jackie Minehart, B.S., Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Graduate Student (Co-mentored with Joshua Singer)

I earned my bachelors degree in Biology from Towson University in 2016. I furthered my laboratory experience as a postbac fellow at the National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland with Principle Investigator Anand Swaroop. My work at NIH allowed me to look into retinal development on a molecular level. I characterized small open reading frame proteins translated from long noncoding RNA in developing photoreceptors. At UMD, I focus on electrophysiology and microanatomy in retinal interneurons.


Shyrice Mitchell, B.S., Biological Sciences Graduate Program

I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Biology from Siena College in 2015 with double minors in Philosophy and Ethics. During my undergraduate studies, I researched the genetic mechanisms controlling sexual dimorphisms during development using C. elegans as a model. Currently, I am investigating the molecular mechanisms that regulate the development of non-image forming visual circuits in mice. Specifically, I am characterizing the local translatomes and protein profiles of the synaptic inputs from a non-canonical photoreceptor, melanopsin-expressing intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, to the master pacemaker of the brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus. 

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Chenghang Zhang, B.S., Biophysics Graduate Student

I majored in physics in Nankai Univerity, China before I joined the biophysics graduate program at UMD, 2017. My undergraduate research included calcium imaging and modeling of periodic calcium signals in osteoblasts. Now my research interest extends to super-resolution imaging applied in neuroscience, with a focus on understanding neuronal plasticity in the visual system. My research focuses on activity-dependent synaptic refinement during eye-specific segregation. Also, I am interested in applying computational methods in image analysis and data processing.


Undergraduate Student Researchers


Elissa Klein, Undergraduate student in Physiology and Neurobiology

I am primarily interested in neurobiology and looking to finish my undergraduate with a major in physiology and neurobiology. I then hope to go to either medical school or graduate school to do clinical research on neurological disease.


Bhuvana Pandalai, Undergraduate student in Physiology and Neurobiology

I am a current undergraduate pursuing Physiology and Neurobiology at University of Maryland. My interests lie in neuroscience research and development of neurological systems and I hope to one day pursue an MD-PhD to become a neurologist and pursue medicine and research in the field.


Tarlan Vatan, Undergraduate student in the College of Computer, Mathematics, and Natural Sciences

I am a junior majoring in physiology and neurobiology, pursuing a MD-PhD in Neuroscience. My research interests include neurogenetics, neural development and plasticity, and neurological disorders. Using the mammalian visual system as a model, I would like to further my understanding of how neurons migrate to their proper position and recognize and make connections with one another.


Madeline White, Undergraduate student in Physiology and Neurobiology

 I am a junior studying Physiology and Neurobiology along with leadership studies, possibly pursuing a MD-PhD. My research interests include neuroanatomy and neurology. As a member of the Speer Lab, I am studying mechanisms of retinal ganglion cell death in the retina using an induced glaucoma model in mice. We are investigating the effect of elevated intraocular pressure on neural pathways in the retina and from the retina to the brain that occur from early development into adulthood.


Principal Investigator


Colenso M. Speer, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology

Faculty member:

Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NACS)

Biological Sciences Graduate Program

Biophysics Graduate Program

I am privileged to pursue my passions for structural imaging, neuroscience research, and teaching. I am excited to support the next generation of neuroscientists and help them achieve success in their independent careers. Together, we are working toward exciting new discoveries that advance our understanding of neural circuit development, plasticity, and dysfunction in neurodevelopmental and degenerative diseases. 



  1. Yalun Yu, B.S., Biophysics Graduate Student, Fall 2017 (Rotation)

  2. Abeerah Qadir, Undergraduate student in Biological Sciences (Fall 2017)

  3. Nan Zhang, Undergraduate student in Biological Sciences (Fall 2017-Spring 2018)

  4. Sindhu Bastakoti, Undergraduate student in Behavioral and Social Sciences College (Fall 2017-Spring 2018)