William Allen

Harvard University, USA

From: Berkeley, California, USA
Category: Cell and Molecular Biology
Title essay: Brain mapping, from molecules to networks: Bridging multiple levels of brain function reveals the neural basis of thirst motivation


William was born and raised in Berkeley, CA, USA in the San Francisco Bay Area. Initially interested in studying philosophy and history, he left California to attend college at Brown University in Providence, RI, where he discovered the joy of research and switched to concentrate in applied mathematics and biology. During college, he conducted research in neurobiology at Brown and at University of California San Francisco. He then spent a year as a Churchill Scholar at University of Cambridge where he received his master’s degree in computational biology, and returned to the Bay Area for his Ph.D. at Stanford University in neuroscience. After his Ph.D., he moved to Cambridge, MA to pursue an independent postdoctoral fellowship as a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. 


Brains are enormously complex, necessitating the development of new tools to understand how elements at multiple levels — from molecules, to cells, to neural networks — work together to produce thought and behavior. In this essay, I describe several new approaches to mapping the brain at each of these levels, at a large scale. I further describe how I applied these approaches to understand the neural basis of thirst motivation, a fundamental regulator of behavior. I discovered a genetically hardwired populations of neurons that regulates thirst motivation through an aversive drive-reduction mechanism and showed that these thirst signals are broadcast throughout the brain to globally coordinate neural activity during motivated behavior.