We are pleased to announce that Dr. Ernie Hwaun has been awarded with the 2021 Interdisciplinary Scholar Award from the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. The promising young postdoctoral researchers of this Interdisciplinary Scholar Award come from the schools of Medicine, Engineering, Education and Humanities & Sciences, and stand out for their drive to challenge themselves and the traditional boundaries of their field. The postdoctoral Interdisciplinary Scholar Awards include a two-year fellowship, career development and funds for experiments or travel. The newest scholars join thirty previous fellowship recipients including alumni who have made important advances in the neurosciences and gone on to careers in academia, industry, nonprofit and government organizations.

Ernie Hwaun is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Soltesz Lab. Ernie received his Bachelor of Science in Physiology & Neuroscience and Master of Science in Biology from the University of California, San Diego. He then moved to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue PhD in Neuroscience. In his doctoral studies, Ernie investigated how rodents acquire memory of new locations during awake behaviors and subsequent sleep. As a postdoctoral researcher in the Soltesz lab at Stanford, he has been investigating the distinct roles of key inhibitory cell types in normal and abnormal circuit functions in mice. To explore whether neural mechanisms that support spatial memory in mammals also exist in invertebrates, Ernie has turned to octopuses, which possess the most advanced nervous system among invertebrates, with the ability to learn and navigate in open water. In collaboration with Prof. Zhenan Bao’s laboratory in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Ernie plans to employ new soft-material probes suitable to collect neural signals from behaving octopuses. With these new tools, he aims to gain insights into common fundamental neuronal mechanisms underlying spatial navigation in evolutionarily distant species living in markedly different natural environments.