Principal Investigator

Jose Rodríguez-Romaguera, PhD

Dr. Jose Rodríguez-Romaguera received his PhD in Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) from the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras,  where he worked with Dr. Gregory Quirk studying the neural circuits of fear and avoidance learning. He then completed his postdoctoral training with Dr. Garret Stuber at UNC Chapel Hill where he studied the neural circuits of arousal and motivation. Dr. Rodríguez-Romaguera is currently a principal investigator in the Department of Psychiatry, the Neuroscience Center and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disorders at UNC Chapel Hill. He also Co-Directs the Carolina Stress Initiative.


Key Collaborators

Nicolas Pégard, PhD

Dr. Nicolas Pégard is a Principal Investigator in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Science. He also Directs the Neuroscience Technology Development Core of the Carolina Stress Initiative. His group collaborates with the Rodriguez-Romaguera Lab on a daily basis to create next-generation tools for the field of systems neuroscience. Dr. Rodríguez-Romaguera and Dr. Pégard co-advise multiple trainees and mentor them in both the engineering and application of neuroscience tools to dissect the neural circuits of arousal and motivation. 


Rebecca Grzadzinski, PhD

Dr. Rebecca Grzadzinski is a Principal Investigator in the Department of Psychiatry and at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disorders at UNC Chapel Hill. Her group collaborates with the Rodriguez-Romaguera Lab on a daily basis to develop behavioral experiments to understand the dynamics of social arousal in infants with developmental disorders. Dr. Rodríguez-Romaguera and Dr. Grzadzinski co-advise multiple trainees and mentor them in both the psychometrics and the application of arousal biomarkers to understand social arousal and motivation. 


Postdoctoral Fellows

Antonio Florido, MSc, PhD

Dr. Florido obtained his master's degree in Mental Health at Universidad de Almería and his doctorate in Neuroscience at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona under the mentorship of Dr. Raul Andero. During his graduate work, he studied sex differences in fear-memory mechanisms in rodents and humans. Currently, Antonio's interests are in overcoming the knowledge gap in pathophysiological mechanisms of stress-related disorders in women. (UNC CPPFD & Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship)


Changjia Cai, MS, PhD

Dr. Cai grauated with his PHD from the UNC-NCSU joint department of Biomedical Engineering in 2024. He is co-advised by Dr. Nicolas Pegard and Dr. Jose Rodriguez-Romaguera. Before joining our research group, he received his B.S. in Physics from Fudan University and his M.S. in Statistics and Operations Research from UNC-Chapel Hill. His current research interests include fluorescence imaging analysis, machine learning, and computational imaging.


Graduate Students

Maria M. Ortiz-Juza, BS

Maria Magdalena Ortiz-Juza graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Biology with a concentration in Physiology and minor in Chemistry. Following graduation, Maria worked as a post-baccalaureate with Dr. Khaled Moussawi at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There, she validated and developed a fentanyl vapor self-administration model in mice to study opioid addiction. Currently, Maria is a PhD student in the Neuroscience Curriculum and is advised by Dr. Jose Rodriguez-Romaguera and Dr. Nicolas Pégard. For her graduate training, Maria hopes to dissect the precise circuitry involved in social behavior and motivation to understand dysfunctions that occur in anxiety and addiction. (NSF-GRFP Fellow & HHMI Gilliam Fellow)


Noah Miller, BS

Noah graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.S. in Psychology and B.A. in Biology. During his undergraduate studies, Noah worked in the lab of Garret Stuber, studying the neural circuitry driving motivated social behaviors in mice. After graduation, Noah worked as a Research Technician in Ben Philpot's lab, studying the molecular changes associated with the epileptic phenotype of Angelman Syndrome model mice. He is currently co-advised by Dr. Jose Rodriguez-Romaguera and Dr. Nicolas Pegard. As a graduate student in the lab, Noah is interested in investigating how the brain functions to encode arousal responses and motivated behaviors at both the single-cell level and across brain circuits using multidisciplinary methodology. (NRSA T32 & F32)


Jovan Tormes-Vaquerano, BS

Jovan Tormes-Vaquerano graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a B.S in electrical engineering. As an undergraduate student, Jovan interned in the lab of Dr. Max Prigozhin at Harvard University where he studied the fluid dynamics and heat transfer of vitrification of cyro-EM samples. Prior to graduation, Jovan also interned in the labs of Dr. Eric Taylor at the University of Iowa and Dr. Carl Novina at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where he investigated different molecular interactions. Jovan is currently a 1st year PhD student in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences, under the co-mentorship of Dr. Nicolas Pégard and Dr. Jose Rodriguez-Romaguera. During his doctoral training, Jovan is interested in developing novel optical instruments and computer-generated holography techniques capable of interfacing with 3-dimensional neuronal structures deep in the brain.


Undergraduate Students

Sarah Lowe

Sarah is currently double majoring in Neuroscience and Music with a minor in Chemistry. This is her first time conducting research and she is excited to learn and grow in the Rodríguez-Romaguera Lab. Sarah is interested in exploring how psychiatric disorders manifest at the neurological level and understanding the mechanisms underlying them.


John Boniberger

John is majoring in Neuroscience and Biology with a minor in Chemistry. He is interested in research that involves the dysregulation of neural pathways and their implications in mental disorders. In his free time, John likes to go to the gym and listen to music.


Ayank Maiti

Ayank is currently a freshman majoring in Neuroscience. He is particularly interested in neuroscience research that involves identifying specific circuitry responsible for mental disorders like anxiety and depression. Outside of academics, Ayank loves staying active by going to the gym, running, and playing sports.


Research Support and Staff

Ellora (Ellie) McTaggart, BS

Laboratory Manager. Ellie received her B.S. from the UNC-NCSU joint department of Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Neuroscience. She initiated her career at the Rodriguez-Romaguera Laboratory as a Research Assistant in 2022, where she has since been instrumental in the design of custom optical devices tailored for neuroscience research. Her responsibilities include enhancing laboratory capabilities through dedicated project support and pioneering tool development. Ellie also facilitates interactions with external vendors and collaborators to ensure smooth and efficient laboratory operations.


Krisha Mehta, BS

Research Support. Krisha graduated with a B.S. in Neuroscience from Dickinson College, PA, and joined our group in February 2024. During her time at Dickinson, she conducted research on sensitization to methamphetamine in mice in the lab of Anthony Rauhut, Ph.D. Her responsibilities include serving as the laboratory animal coordinator, increasing laboratory efficiency, and miscellaneous administrative tasks. Krisha also supports ongoing projects in the lab with histology, imaging, behavioral experiments, and data analysis. She hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Neuroscience in the future and is interested in dissecting the neural circuitry of psychiatric and stress-related disorders like anxiety.


Jose Rios, BS

Research Support. Jose Rios received his B.S. from the UNC-NCSU joint department of Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Neuroscience. Since joining the Rodriguez-Romaguera lab in 2023, he has played a key role in advancing the research efforts of graduate students through technical expertise, with a particular focus on 3D printing and design. With previous experience at Restor3d, he specializes in AutoCAD and brings a unique blend of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Beyond professional pursuits, Jose is passionate about music and soccer.


Lab Alumni

Rizk A. Alghorazi, BS 

(Research Technician in the lab from 2019-2021)Now a medical student at UNC School of Medicine. 

Randall Ung, MD, PhD

(Post-doc in the lab from 2019-2021)Now a resident at University of Pennsylvania. 

Rubén García-Reyes, BA

(Post-Baccalaureate Scholar in the lab from 2020-2021)Now a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Kattia Mata

(Undergraduate Research Assistant in the lab in 2021)Now a Research Assistant with my colleague/collaborator Dr. Rebecca Grzadzinski.

Hannah Baker

(Undergraduate Research Assistant in the lab in 2022) 

Carla M. Rivera-Pacheco, BS

(Post-Baccalaureate Scholar in the lab from 2022-2023)Now a graduate student at University of Texas Southwestern.

Samir Patel, BS

(Undergraduate Research Assistant and Research Technician in the lab from 2021-2023)Now a medical student at Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Ayden Ring, BA

(Research Technician in the lab from 2021-2023)Now a Teaching Assistant at the Expedition School

Sophia Hegel, BS

(Undergraduate Assistant in the lab from 2022-2024)Now an NIH IRTA Baccalaureate Fellow

Kisha Young

(Administrative Support in the lab from 2022-2024)

Micah Baldonado, BS

(Undergraduate Assistant in the lab from 2023-2024)Now a Masters Student at Carnegie Mellon University

Kayal Udaiyar, BS

(Undergraduate Assistant in the lab from 2022-2024)

Geronimo Velazquez-Hernandez, PhD

(Postdoctoral Researcher in the lab from 2021-2024)

Vincent R. Curtis, PhD

(Graduate student in the lab from 2020-2024)

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