Lab Members

J. Nicholas Betley, Principal Investigator

Betley picNick’s spark for research was ignited as an undergraduate, where he explored the molecular determinants of cellular asymmetry in Jim Deshler’s laboratory. From this work, Nick became interested in how molecular codes influence the assembly of the nervous system and attended Columbia University where he worked with Thomas Jessell to investigate the developmental programs that determine synaptic partners during circuit formation. To better understand how neural circuits influence behavior he moved to Janelia Research Campus and worked with Scott Sternson to examine the structure and function of neural circuits that influence feeding behaviors. He moved to the University of Pennsylvania in the Fall of 2015 and is interested in exploring how the brain guides behavior in a dynamic world. Nick is funded by the NIH, the Klingenstein-Simons Foundation, the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association.


Ryan Post, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

Ryan Post is a Service Award Postdoctoral Fellow in the Betley Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. His current research focuses on how coherent behaviors emerge when multiple survival needs are in conflict, and how hypothalamic circuits coordinate such behavioral priorities. Ryan uses a combination of behavioral, neurophysiological, and anatomical approaches to investigate these and other questions.




Lavinia Boccia, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

Lavinia received a Bachelor of Biological Science at University of Insubria in Varese in Italy, then specializing in a Master’s degree in Biology applied in Nutritional science at the University of Milan. She received her Ph.D. in Integrative Molecular Medicine from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Her thesis examined the role of the lateral parabrachial nucleus in the integration and mediation of amylin anorectic signal. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, she is interested in studying the neuronal pathways regulating energy balance and motivated behaviors, by monitoring in vivo neuronal activity to understand how cell type-specific responses are associated with behavioral states. Lavinia speaks Italian, English, French and German. In her free time, she likes to do sports and outdoor activities and she is passionate about art and painting.


Nick Smith, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow


Nick got his B.A. in Biochemistry from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University for his studies on the physiology of nucleus accumbens circuits. In the Betley lab, Nick’s work focuses on the contribution of mesolimbic reward circuitry to food consumption.




Morgan Kindel, Graduate Student


Morgan graduated from Chapman University in 2019 with dual degrees in Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology. She then joined the laboratory of Mario Penzo at the National Institute of Mental Health where she spent two years researching the role of the thalamus in adaptive and maladaptive stress responses. Now as a graduate student in the Betley Lab, Morgan is interested in how physical exercise changes the brain.



Kayla Kruger, Research Technician


Kayla began working in the Betley Lab as a freshman with an interest in the neurobiological underpinnings of eating disorders. Her work focuses on gut-brain signaling deficits in a mouse model of anorexia as well as the striatal and cerebellar circuits that mediate maladaptive feeding behavior. Upon graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 2022, she continued in the lab as a research technician to expand on her undergraduate work and pursue a research career.



Rachael Villari, Research Technician

Rachael received her B.A. in Neuroscience with minors in Chemistry and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She joined the Betley lab as an undergraduate in 2019 and remained in the lab as a research technician post-graduation. Rachael is interested in studying how the brain chooses between competing survival needs in mice, and is looking forward to starting medical school in July!




Ella Cho, Research Assistant


Ella Cho is a 4th-year undergraduate studying neuroscience at UPenn. Though she has been involved in various projects since joining the lab in 2019, her current research interests entail the computational role of the cerebellum in adaptive behaviors such as feeding and the neurobiological basis of eating disorders. In the future, Ella hopes to further these interests in graduate school.



Undergraduate Research Assistants
Jimmy Bianchi
Bridget Skelly
Megan Timoney
Gabriel Garcia
Evie Eisenstein
Lukas Richie
Sukya Williams
Syraj Uddin
Trinity Kellarakos


Betley Lab Alumni
Nitsan Goldstein
Amber Alhadeff
Michelle Klima
Jamie Carty
Onyoo Park
Alekso Miller
Aloysius Low

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