Monica Liu

Shanahan Postdoctoral Fellow at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the University of Washington

I am a postdoctoral fellow in Seattle using computational methods to examine how neural population activity changes over the course of learning. My primary research interests are in studying memory and reward pathways with the long-term goal of understanding the neural mechanisms of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Education and Experiences

PhD in Bioengineering, Specialization in Neural Engineering
University of Pittsburgh, Department of Bioengineering

August 2016 - August 2021, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Advisors: Douglas Weber and Aaron Batista

  • Study the neural mechanisms of sensorimotor integration in the dorsal root ganglia and cortex.
  • In the dorsal root ganglia, neural coding of tactile stimuli depends on both the force and texture of the stimulus. In particular, rapidly-adapting afferents encode texture information during the offset of the stimulus, whereas force information is encoded in the average firing rate of the population.
  • Examined how visual and proprioceptive feedback were incorporated into BCI control in a person who was completely paralyzed below the neck but retained intact somatosensation.

Data Engineer
Novartis' Institue for Biomedical Research, NX Informatics

August 2015 - August 2016, Boston, Massachusetts

  • Develop software to support bioinformatics research
  • Build a distributed processing system using Apache Spark to analyze large scale genomic data
  • Implement infrastructure to process and analyze big data efficiently

B.S. Biology, B.A. Computer Science
University of Virginia

August 2011 - May 2015, Charlottesville, Virginia

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Center for Diabetes Technology

  • Assisted in clinical trials that tested the effectiveness of an artificial pancreas system in people with type I diabetes. This involved teaching participants how to use the artificial pancreas software, and ensuring that the software was functioning properly.
  • Worked on building an algorithm to estimate insulin sensitivity over time based on glucose readings and other physiological variables. This estimate was built into the artificial pancreas system to provide closed-loop estimates of required insulin in response to a subject’s meals.

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Siller Lab, Department of Biology

  • During spinal cord injury, Wallerian degeneration results in axon degeneration. When axons degenerate, they exhibit axon blebbing–small circular interruptions along the axon. In a fluorescent microscopy image, these blebs need to be counted but this is a manual and time-intensive process. Automated bleb counting methods must be able to distinguish between axon blebs and axon crossings, as the brightness profile of blebs and crossings look very similar.
  • Developed a MATLAB script that automates bleb counting and can distinguish between axon blebs and axon crossings

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Taylor Lab, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

  • A common treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia is monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapy. However, leukemias can become resistant to mAb therapy over time because the cell-surface antigen that mAbs target is presented on the cell surface at lower and lower frequency. One alternative is to activate the innate immune system via the complement pathway. The complement pathway recruits proteins to the cell surface that results in the formation of a membrane attack complex. This complex creates a hole in the cell membrane, causing the cell to rupture.
  • Assisted in experiments to develop mAbs that recruited the complement system to the surface of cancerous B-cells, and quantified how likely these mAbs were to have off-target effects that resulted in platelet destruction

Publications and Projects


A website focused on giving students hands-on experience with well-known neuroscience behavioral tasks and analyses.


Graphic and haptic interface for Force Dimensions robots


High-speed UDP network messsaging system to coordinate experimental data collection modules

Myoelectric Tetris

Myoelectric control of Tetris using Backyard Brain’s EMG SpikerBox.

Lecture Notes on PCA and K-Means
Guest lectures in Quantiative Systems Neuroscience

Lecture notes for University of Pittsburgh’s BioE 1586: Quantitative Neuroscience, taught by Dr. Aaron Batista


I take pictures for fun! Usually, when I am hiking. Hopefully, this section will be more fleshed out soon.


Awards and Honors