A Drive to Understand How Things Work: Dr. Jeremy Chang

May 18, 2020
Drs. Jeremy Chang and Clara Tepohl

By Katie Edwards

Growing up, Jeremy Chang can’t remember a time when he wasn’t curious about science. His father was a physicist and his mother was an entomologist, and he describes a childhood filled with trips to science museums and bug collections. As a child, he had a habit of taking toys apart, though he admits that he often “failed to put them back together again.”

Jeremy Chang is a postdoc in the lab of Dr. David Fitzpatrick where he continues his childhood curiosity of learning how things work – in this case, the intricate networks in the brain that help develop vision. His most recent project seeks to answer how the visual cortex develops to handle signals from both eyes, and is the subject of a new paper in Neuron, featuring Jeremy as first author.

Jeremy came to MPFI in 2017, after working as a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Michael Higley at Yale University, where he received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Before Yale, Jeremy studied Electrical Engineering with a minor in Psychology at MIT. At first, Jeremy intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and study physics, but soon found himself interested in the field of optics. “I came across an ad for a position in a new lab that was combining optics and neuroscience. Since I was interested in artificial intelligence and minoring in psychology I thought this might be a fun intersection of some of the things I was studying,” he said.

His timing was lucky. He joined the lab just as the field of optogenetics was taking off, and the lab was headed by Ed Boyden, regarded as an early pioneer of optogenetics. This experience taught him a substantial amount about neuroscience and microscopy, and led him to focus his career on studying how the brain works.

Jeremy’s success wasn’t just a matter of being in the right lab at the right time. He credits curiosity for fueling his research accomplishments, along with determination that he honed from another childhood pastime: swimming.

“Science requires a fair amount of perseverance or long-term thinking as it is often a lot of monotonous work that’s punctuated occasionally by an interesting finding or breakthrough. I had a lot of practice with this as a swimmer when I was younger which similarly requires long-term goals and depends on stretches of putting your head down and working (practice) occasionally punctuated by brief periods of excitement (races/meets).”

His determination helped with some of the challenges he faced in his most recent project, which used new techniques and modeling systems, and required what Jeremy called “a steep learning curve.” Nevertheless, the work paid off.

“The most rewarding part of this project is that we’ve filled in a gap in our understanding of how the visual system develops. This has opened up new exciting directions for the lab to pursue in the future,” he said.

Dr. Jeremy Chang’s new paper “Experience-dependent reorganization drives development of a  binocularly unified cortical representation of orientation” is featured in Neuron. Click here to learn more about this publication.