Home » People of the Ackley Lab

People of the Ackley Lab

BDABrian D. Ackley [Grande Queso]

Brian received his bachelors degree(s) in Chemistry and Psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (www.vt.edu) in 1994, which explains his lack of hair today. From there he moved on to the Windy City and the Northwestern Institute for Neuroscience, from whom he received a Ph.D. in 2001. It was during this apprenticeship that Brian developed an abiding interest in the worlds most perfect model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. His dissertation “The C. elegans homologue of type XVIII collagen, cle-1, is an essential gene with broad functions” was voted the #1 dissertation in an incredibly limited polling of available family members.

 Brian then went on to do tours of duty in the lab of Dr. Yishi Jin, then at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he got to work in the beautiful environment of the redwood trees and mountain air, and subsequently in the lab of Dr. Janet Richmond at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which had a smaller number of redwoods (actual #  = 0). These were productive scientific stops (shameless plug – please check out the publications page), culminating in the acquisition of a tenure-track faculty position at The University of Kansas.

As of today, Brian and his wife and two kids (and two dogs and two cats) live in Lawrence, KS. A beautiful city just a stone’s throw away from the geographic center of the United States (but definitely not the political center). In addition to his addicting hobby of doing science, Brian enjoys bicycling and drinking beer, although not at the same time, as well as basketball and soccer, obviously while drinking. Feel free to contact him at bdackley [at] ku.edu. He’s generally available for seminars and/or the occasional reagent or two.

MollyMolly Birrer [Land Shark]

Project:  Synapse loss due to expression of tau (but not delta chi)

Little is known about the shadowy origins of this apex predator. Rumors about a large family remain unconfirmed. Early stories of working as an enforcer for the feared Indiana yakuza are probably true, but don’t ask for confirmation. What is known is that she was sent west from Indiana to learn the secret ways of science from the same sage mystics that instructed her parents many years ago. However, those people had retired, so she got stuck working in the Ackley Lab.

Molly’s project is a collaboration between the Ackley and Gamblin labs at KU. Using C. elegans to understand how expression of disease causing variants in the tau protein affect neurons. By identifying a subtle phenotype in the synapses, which occurs prior to neuronal cell loss, Molly’s work may point to a way to intervene in tauopathies at an early stage. When she’s not working in the lab, Molly enjoys swimming fast and teaching those little brats in the lane over a thing or two about what it means to race.

MeaganMeagan Kurland [Bamboo Whisperer]

Project:  The Axon Terminator 2:  Juxtacrine Day

Hailing from the mean pastures of Western Pennsylvania Meagan has taken the mean pastures of Kansas by storm. Meagan’s story is a common one, raised by nice people in safe and secure home, she got bored and decided to take a job in the most morally bankrupt place she could find…academic science. Her downward spiral took her into a life of hypothesis, experimentation and data analysis, and that could end in only one way, as a graduate student in the Ackley lab. Where she goes from here can only be upward.

Meagan’s project is exploring the role of Wnt signaling on axon termination. A little too much and they stop short, not enough and axons go on and on. Precise axon termination turns out to be rather genetically complicated, which is interesting (i.e. frustrating as hell).

In her free time Meagan enjoys caring for all of god’s creatures…well, sort of. Actually, just her fish, her pet moss (Sabrina) and her bamboo tree (Mulan). In addition she is active in the MB Graduate Student Organization and hard at work on the libretto for her production of “C. elegans: The Musical!”


The Brute Squad (Whatever you do, don’t cross them…but do, with all haste, recruit them to your graduate program)

The brute squad(L to R)

Bryn O’Meara

Maya Bluitt

Vince Fiorentino

Kasra Alizadeh

Lisa Volkin

Chloe Adams

Natasha LaGrega

Previous Inmates of the Ackley Lab (Escapees to better paying jobs, feel free to mug them on sight!)


Michael Branden [Utility Infielder]

Project – Keeping it all together

Mike is a Kansas original, even though he spent time as a world traveler growing up (living in Brazil), he returned to Lawrence as an adult. Mike’s background as an agent in the People’s Front of Judea served him well in his service to Kansas during the border wars with Missouri. He bravely volunteered to be a double agent, infiltrating and destabilizing the Judean People’s Front.

After retiring from active duty, Mike got interested in promoting the health and welfare of humanity, and pursued a degree in molecular biology, and work in an immunology lab. Such noble ideals were stripped from him as he witnessed first hand the inner workings of a modern biotech company.

Mike returned to KU in 2009 to work in the Ackley lab where he managed day to  day operations; making sure the Ackley lab artisan scientists have what they need to be innovative and significant. When not cleaning up the messes of others he enjoys being at home with his family or making music. A sample of the Mike’s musical stylings can be heard by squeezing live guinea pigs, although please check with  your IACUC protocols first.

Current whereabouts:  Handcrafting enzymes for a local biotech in Lawrence

lab xmas at free stateDana Tucker [Point Guard]

Project: Syg zagging axon outgrowth

Dana and her chaste twin sister sprang to life from a brief union between Zeus and Jared Leto. Prior to joining the Ackley Lab she labored for many years dragging the sun around the world, although later admitted that was more metaphorical than metaphysical.  Dana emigrated from Missouri to do a PhD at Emory, before coming to the Ackley Lab in 2013.

In her spare time Dana enjoys basketball, softball, golf, frisbee golf, ping pong, ping pong golf, poker, spades, poker golf and ancient forms of the death competition known as cornhole. She also has two awesome dogs and is happy to show you photos of them upon request, or even without a request.

Current whereabouts:  Dropping some science on the kids at Central Missouri University

Ray Bench

Raymond Caylor [Zen practitioner]

Project – Regulation of synaptic morphology by voltage-gated calcium channels and their effectors, including CALM-1

Raymond grew up happy in District 7, and would have stayed if not sent to Lawrence as a Tribute in 2007.  Ray obtained a BS in Health Sciences from Valley City State where he played football, securing the win over their hated rival by catching the go-ahead touchdown on the final play of the game. After moving to Lawrence, Ray was awarded one of the highly coveted spots in the Ackley Lab, demonstrating his superiority over all other rotation students.

Ray’s project has focused on understanding how calcium channels contribute to synaptic development. This is not trivial and has resulted in many late nights figuring out just how to glue worms to microscope slides. His hobbies include gluing worms to microscope slides and working out. He’s also a sports fan of the highest order, with an eclectic group of favorite teams including the Indiana Pacers (great choice), San Francisco 49ers (so-so choice), the Atlanta Braves (solid) and UNC Men’s BB (a difficult sell in Larryville, let’s be honest).

Current whereabouts:  Decoding genomes from sick kids at The Center for Genomic Medicine at Childrens Mercy Hospital

Sam bench

Samantha Hardin [Cupcake Supplier]

Project – The Secret-ome, er, Secrete-ome, and mechanisms of axon termination

Samantha is a product of the cradle of civilization (AKA Johnson County). She migrated westward all the way to Manhattan, KS where she attended Kansas State University. This was not solely because she loves the color purple, but we have yet to get any other solid rationale. Eventually though she came to her senses and moved to Lawrence to join the program at KU.

Sam’s project has been focused on screening for genes that are synthetically lethal with either ptp-3 or sdn-1 (LAR and Syndecan, for non-worm people scoring at home). The observations that she made during the screen have opened up multiple new avenues of scientific exploration in the Ackley lab…well maybe not avenues, yet, alleys or one-way streets maybe.

In her spare time Sam runs, I kid you not, a specialty cupcake business.  Check it out http://www.facebook.com/BootleggerCupcakes

Current whereabouts:  Caring for the criminally insane at The Kansas University Medical Center, and also doing a postdoc there

Vi bench

Vi Leitenberger [Coffee Creator]

Project – Molecular Mechanisms of Directional Axon Outgrowth

Vi’s story is a traditional one. Originally programmed as a protocol droid, she was kidnapped by brown-robed fanatics and brought against her will to the arid desert of central Kansas. There she was able to leverage her knowledge of the binary language of moisture vaporators into a position with a seemingly well-to-do farming couple.

A long journey later brought her to her current position as the translator and coffee preparation expert for an over-sized crime lord. In addition to spending time with her husband who hails from the noble ruling family of Kashyyyk, she works diligently on understanding the molecular mechanisms of directional axon outgrowth. Currently this involves working with temperature sensitive lethal C. elegans strains, which is only slightly more challenging than dealing with her bosses weird sense of humor.

 Current whereabouts:  Decompressing from graduate work while visiting family

Aaron Bender

Aaron Bender [Flasher]

Project – Acid Sensitive Fluorphores Report on Intestinal pH changes in C. elegans

hudson pt 2

Martin Hudson [Foreign National]

Project – SNP Mapping SynLet Suppressors (or how to drive yourself insane)


Elvis Huarcaya Najarro [International Man of Mystery]

Project – Flamingo functions in directional axon outgrowth

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