Andrew Leifer

Assistant Professor of Physics & Neuroscience
Email Address:
Office Location: 
250 Princeton Neuroscience Institute / 220 Jadwin

How do collections of neurons generate an animal’s behavior? My lab uses techniques from experimental physics to probe brain-wide neural activity of a small animal, the nematode  C. elegans . Ultimately we seek general principles that govern “neural dynamics,” the collective patterns of activity of neurons across the brain. Understanding how these neural dynamics drive animal motion, make decisions or implement higher brain functions such as learning, is the central focus of my lab.

 We are actively working on three investigation related to neural dynamics:

1) How do brain-wide neural dynamics drive animal behavior and transitions between behavior states?

2) How does the anatomical structure of a network of neurons influence or constrain neural dynamics?

3) How do neural dynamics drive higher-level “cognitive” function such as decision-making, learning or the maintenance of long-lived internal brain states?


To tackle these questions, our group pioneered a variety of optical techniques, including the ability to non-invasively record activity from all neurons in the animal’s brain as it crawls freely.     We are a multidisciplinary group that brings together scientists with backgrounds and expertise in physics, neuroscience, molecular biology, engineering and computer science. Please see for more information and feel free to contact me via email at


Selected Publications:

Complete listing: PubMed [ ]   Google Scholar [ ]         

·          Whole-brain calcium imaging with cellular resolution in freely behaving Caenorhabditis elegans. JP Nguyen, FB Shipley, AN Linder, GS Plummer, M Liu, SU Setru, JW Shaevitz, AM Leifer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201507110 2 (2015). [ ]

·          Simultaneous optogenetic manipulation and calcium imaging in freely moving C. elegans. FB Shipley, CM Clark, MJ Alkema, AM Leifer. Frontiers in Neural Circuits 8:28 (2014).   [ ]

·          Optogenetic manipulation of neural activity in C. elegans: from synapse to circuits and behavior. SJ Husson, A Gottschalk, AM Leifer. Biology of the Cell 105:6 (2013) [ ]

·          Optogenetic manipulation of neural activity in freely moving Caenorhabditis elegans. AM Leifer, C Fang-Yen, M Gershow, M Alkema, ADT Samuel. Nature Methods, 8, 147–152 (2011). []

  Teaching 2015-2016:

                  ·          PHY 103 General Physics I (Fall)