Home » People of the Ackley Lab

People of the Ackley Lab


Brian 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.

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 manages 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.


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).



Samantha Hardin [Cupcake Supplier]

Sam benchProject – 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



Vi Leitenberger

Vi bench

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.




The Brute Squad

Angela Eyad Curtis Ryan XChelsea S

(R to L): Angela Lee, Eyad Gharaibeh, Curtis Yingling, Chelsea Steel and Ryan Xiao

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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