News from the Stein Lab

Recruiting new graduate students

posted Jan 18, 2018, 7:09 PM by Wolfgang Stein

The Stein lab is looking for new graduate students to join our lab. We are particularly interested in students with a keen interest in using neurophysiology and optical imaging to study sensory processing, motor control and robustness of neural activity in a well-characterized invertebrate system.
Students should contact Dr. Stein at and send a CV and short statement of interest.

Society for Neuroscience meeting

posted Nov 24, 2017, 2:13 PM by Wolfgang Stein

We had four posters at this year's annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, three of which were related to our current NSF-funded project.
It was great to see that all posters were busy and had many visitors.

Our lab also organized the Neuroethology/Inverterbrate Neuroscience Social, which was (again) a great success. We had more than 100 attendants, including students, postdocs and faculty.
Here are some impressions:

New YouTube videos uploaded

posted Nov 4, 2017, 9:40 PM by Wolfgang Stein

I finally had time to finish and upload the newest videos from my MotoVlog series. There are a total of six new videos:

1. What are scientific theories?

What are scientific theories?

2. Why is basic research important?

Why is basic research important

3. Why did I go to the March for Science?

Why did I go to the March for Science?

4. Is scientific research expensive?

Is scientific research expensive?

5. What the Stein lab does

What the Stein lab does

5. Flat earthers and science conspiracies

Flat earthers and science conspiracies

Chris Goldsmith wins PhD Dissertation Completion Grant.

posted Nov 4, 2017, 9:31 PM by Wolfgang Stein

Congratulations to Chris Goldsmith from the Crablab for being awarded the PhD Dissertation Completion Grant!

Chris works on an NSF funded project to study multisensory processing in motor network, using optical imaging and electrophysiology.

2017 Neuroethology / Invertebrate Neurobiology Social at SfN

posted Oct 27, 2017, 9:20 AM by Wolfgang Stein

Please join us for this year's Neuroethology / Invertebrate Neurobiology Social at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in Washington, DC. The social will be held at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel, Rooms 12, 13, and 14, on Sunday, November 12, from 6:45- 8:45pm.


All members of the neuroscience community are welcome - in particular those who work on the neural basis of natural behaviors. Come by to meet old friends and make new ones. Postdocs and students are encouraged to drop in for socializing and networking.

We will have tables and a projector. Use the opportunity to show photos of your lab, the prep that you work on, or courses that you teach on this Social. Send an email to or if you are interested.

This event is a purely social gathering to celebrate neuroethology, invertebrate neuroscience research, and the role of the nervous system in producing behavior.

Add the Neuroethology / Invertebrate Neurobiology Social to your meeting planer (SOC06)!/4376/session/1341

We are looking forward to receiving your pictures and announcements and to seeing you soon at the social,

Wolfgang and Carola

Our lab presented research talks at the International Symposium on Biomathematics and Ecology Education Research

posted Oct 8, 2017, 1:46 PM by Wolfgang Stein

Some impressions from the International Symposium on Biomathematics and Ecology Education Research. We had some outstanding presentations in our session.

PhD student Chris Goldsmith and MS student Marissa Cruz presented their thesis work on motor pattern selection and temperature effects on the nervous system, respectively.

We viewed the total eclipse!

posted Aug 25, 2017, 10:27 AM by Wolfgang Stein

The lab traveled south to watch the total eclipse. We were lucky that the few clouds decided to move just in time!

We also collected crustaceans in Shawnee Forest.

Bell Smith Springs

PI Stein, PhD student Margaret DeMaegd, and MS student Abigail Benson.

Why is it important to support science and education?

posted Jun 30, 2017, 8:53 AM by Wolfgang Stein   [ updated Jul 3, 2017, 2:49 PM ]

A few weeks ago, I participated with many friends and colleagues in the march for science. You can read my motivation here, or you can head over to Youtube, where I discuss this topic in my MotoVlog series.

Why did I march, and why is it important to support science and education?

Science is evidence based - it is the process of discovering new facts about who we are, about the world that surrounds us, and how we interact with this world. Science affects all of us. We all live in the same society, in the same world. If we stop supporting science and education, we lose the ability to develop new treatments, new preventions, new techniques, and new materials. Science matters because everyone in the modern world is affected and informed by it. Not a single device, instrument, or treatment we use every day would exist without scientific research.

To me, there are several important issues that the march for Science emphasized: the value of a sustained investment in basic research, the need to preserve data access, the importance of science education in training a globally competitive workforce, and the role of science and technology in economic development.

Alternative facts

The idea of “alternative facts”, which has recently appeared in social and other media, directly contradicts science and research. Alternative facts simply do not exist in science, and we should fight against any attempt to bend facts to meet someone’s ideology.

There is a certain risk of being associated with radicals when you make a statement like that, with people that support radical causes, and misuse scientific facts in their own ways. I understand that scientific organizations worry about protecting their reputations and thus will not officially support marches for science. But there is a risk from remaining silent, too. While I may not agree with everything that is being said and done at these marches, I think most people would agree that, in the current political climate, sitting on the sidelines, being quite, is not a very effective strategy.

I am a researcher at Illinois State University, I am a Neuroscientist, and I am an educator. As a scientist, I rely on facts - facts that I see when I do my experiments, facts in my everyday life. Let me tell you: there are no alternative facts. Alternative facts do not exist in science. Facts are the truth, and facts do not care whether you believe in them or not, whether you like them, or don't. As a scientist, I want to understand the world and explain how things work. I design experiments that tell me facts about the world, that inform me about how things work. I accept these facts even when they go against my own beliefs and ideas. I embrace them, use them to refine and adapt my ideas.

These facts are also checked by others before they are accepted by the scientific community. And they are not checked by my friends or coworkers - on the contrary - they are often checked by my fiercest competitors, and only if they agree, others will hear about my studies. This is called peer-review, and there is a good reason why this is an anonymous process.

Researchers use these facts to explain how the world works, and we do this to the best of our abilities.

Our ideas and explanations are not always right.

In fact, we are very likely to be wrong, at least partially. But that is exactly what science is about. We embrace the idea that our explanations of how the world works, our interpretation of what the facts mean, is incomplete. We understand that there will be others after us who improve our ideas and our interpretations. We also know that those after us would never get there if it wasn't for our experiments and ideas. Take for example Newton. His experiment was very simple. Take an apple and drop it (if you believe this kind of story). The facts are that even nowadays the apple will always fall down (as long as you are on planet earth, at least). Newton explained these fact by postulating that a force exists between objects that we call gravity. His ideas are still widely used today, but when Einstein came around, it became clear that Newton was not entirely correct. There is no force. Instead, we now think of gravity as a bend in the space-time continuum. We also know that this idea is not fully correct, and if you are interested in why, go talk to a quantum physicist. The point is, we know that our models and ideas may be wrong or incomplete, although they explain most of the facts, and that someone will improve them in the future.

So what does this mean?

Facts are facts, whether you like them or not. What you make of facts is a different story, and your interpretation may be wrong. That does not make your interpretation 'fake news'. However, if I misrepresent a fact, say I claim that something I have measured is larger than it actually is, then I intentionally lie about a fact, and that makes it fake. This is called falsifying data. For example, if you blatantly exaggerate the number of people attending an event in order to boost your popularity, you are, simply said, a liar. In science, if you get caught doing this ONCE, your carrier is over. In politics, this does not seem to matter.

We live in times where it becomes increasingly more difficult to find out what the true facts are, who provides them, and who to believe. Even understanding what the word fact means seems difficult. An esteemed member of our current administration once said 'lets make sure that evolution is taught not as a fact, but as a theory". As if it wasn't taught that way. Clearly that person had a wrong understanding of what facts are and what a theory is.

The idea of evolution is a theory, but in the scientific world a theory means that it is the best explanation we have for the facts that resulted from hundreds of years of scientific research. Make no mistake: all of these facts - the results from thousands of experiments and observations - support this idea. But no one can say that this theory is final (which is why we do not call it a fact), and we all know that our understanding of evolution will improve with time and more research. It is very unlikely to change much though given all the evidence we have for it. To say this in other words: a scientific theory is not just a wild, unsupported guess. On the contrary, it represents the combined knowledge of all scientists studying this topic, and has been tested and supported numerous times.

Becoming scientifically literate should not be the exception - it should be the rule.

As an educator at Illinois State University, it is my duty to make sure the future generation understands how to find the truth, and why it is important to do so.We are flooded with information, via phones, computers, tablets and TVs. We need to re-learn how to spot the truth and who to trust. We need to understand that the truth sometimes hurts and goes against our beliefs and hopes. We also need to embrace that the world is complex and that there are no easy answers. The world is not black and white - there are many shades of grey. Only when we accept this, only then we can improve our lives and our society.

There was never a time in history when governments were a reliable source of information. That is because government always have an agenda and are, as a consequence, biased. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but as we see these days, facts are falsified and pre-selected, and not based on the truth. We should fight against any attempt to bend facts to meet someone’s ideology. We need independent oversight.

Why invest in basic research?

I also want to emphasize the value of a sustained investment in basic research, and the need to preserve data access. Most research does not directly result in something that improves our lives or society. Some research may never do that. However, as I have mentioned earlier, science builds upon the findings of others, and ultimately the combined effort of many leads to new and important breakthroughs. This requires us to invest in basic research, and to maintain access to data gathered by our predecessors. We would not be where we are now without this process. We would have never gotten to the moon if not for all the basic research done by previous generations. You would not be able to go to the hospital to get cancer treated, or Parkinson's, or drug addiction if not for all the basic research that helped us understand how the body works. We will never be able to understand global warming if we do not support basic sciences. This reminds me of another thing: the state of Illinois has not given its Universities a budget in two years. Higher education is struggling in this state! And there is a deadline upcoming for a new state budget, but so far it does not look good!

Freedom, liberty and the diversity of thought

Finally, there is a role of science and education in training a globally competitive workforce, and in the economic development of the country. At a University, we train the best and smartest people. The smartest people don't all come from the same country, or continent, or culture. If we do not invest in science and education, we will lose on a global scale. More importantly, and this is for me a particularly important point, coming from Germany and being raised with the awareness of the German past, it is wrong to discriminate against religion, race or gender. We should embrace diversity, not suppress it. The US in particular is built on diversity, it has been a beacon of liberty and freedom, but it is quickly deteriorating. When I look at Illinois State University and its faculty and students, I see diversity, I see friendliness and open hearts. Let's not destroy this, let's keep an open mind to other opinions, raise awareness against discrimination, and act to prevent further damage to basic rights and freedom.

For more information about the march for science, you may also want to look at the article from Redbird Scholar, the article in the Pantagraph,
and the press release from Illinois State University.

You can also head over to Youtube, where I discuss this topic in my MotoVlog series.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of anyone else, including any department or agency of Illinois State University.

Congratulations, Casey!

posted Apr 28, 2017, 9:27 PM by Wolfgang Stein

Casey Gährs receives ISU Foundation award!

Casey Gährs, MS student starting in the Vidal-Gadea and Stein labs in Fall 2017, was awarded a fellowship from the Illinois State University Foundation for her excellent academic record as an undergraduate at ISU. Casey's long-term career goal is to establish herself as an independent researcher in bioinformatics and molecular neuroscience, and the fellowship will assist her in pursuing a graduate degree.

Casey is currently an honors student in Biology. She has been extensively involved in research, and has completed Honors projects in Genetics, Animal Behavior, and Animal Physiology. She has already published three peer-reviewed articles, and presented her data at the Argonne National Laboratory, the Society for Neuroscience Chicago chapter meeting, and the local Phi Sigma Research Symposium. Last year, she received a poster award at the School of Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Casey is currently working on creating the first transgenic decapod crustacean - an animal class that includes crabs, lobsters and crayfish. She has recently received startup support at the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) for her bioinformatics studies with an estimated value more than $8,000. Casey will continue with her project as a Master student in the Neuroscience and Physiology sequence in fall.

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