Alexandra Scharr

I became interested in neuroscience when I learned that our senses inform us about the world on a “need-to-know” basis. What we experience is not reality, but highly pre-processed signals from our specialized sensory systems which only access a sliver of the physical information in our surroundings. Animals that evolved with different needs experience a different world than we do, for example, seeing colors we cannot see, and hearing sounds we are deaf to. Learning how biological systems translate physical signals into perception is my strongest motivation for neuroscience research.

At Pomona College I studied the role of spatial frequency content in rapid natural scene perception in central versus peripheral vision. (In English: how is it that we can know so much about a visual scene in, literally, the blink of eye? And are we using the sharp features or the blurry gist of the scene for this skill?)

At Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution I studied the hair cells in the vestibular system of squid and their susceptibility to aminoglycosides. (In English: exploring how the hair cells in squid are similar and yet very different from the well-studied hair cells of mammals.)

I am now in the Neurosciences PhD program at Stanford University studying hair cells again, this time in the mammalian auditory system. Using scanning electron microscopy, calcium imaging, and patch clamp electrophysiology, I am investigating the relationship between the form and function of stereocilia tips, which is where the transduction channel is located. Hearing is fundamentally a mechanosensation, like touch. The morphology of the stereocilia tips determines how the force originating from sound pressure waves is translated to the channel, and therefore the hair cell, the very first signal to the nervous system!

I also enjoy being involved in the student community, currently as a student representative to the Neurosciences Program Committee, as a graduate student mentor for first-generation college students, as a member of the Gender in Neuroscience discussion group, and as an English language tutor for international students. I have also served as a Student Leader in the ADVANCE Biosciences Summer Program, which helps new students transition to graduate school, and as a Diversity Host to students from underrepresented backgrounds interviewing at Stanford.

In addition to my awesome day-job, I dabble in as many hobbies as I can. Most recently: learning to sail, snowboard, and golf.