Research aims

How do we listen? Hearing describes how we sense sound, yet it remains unclear how the brain enables listening. Asked another way, which neural mechanisms underlie how we perceive, remember, and attend to sound? By combining methods in neurophysiology, animal behavior, and data analysis, the Francis lab aims to clarify the neural mechanisms of listening and advance our understanding of how brain function relates to behavior. Current research investigates the neural mechanisms underlying auditory perception,  sensory-guided decision-making, and predictive coding of sensory events.


The Francis lab studies cortical activity and auditory task performance in mice. We use genetic tools that enable imaging and optical manipulation of the brain. We use psychedelic drugs as tools to study  the neural basis of altered perception. We collect neural data using multi-channel electrophysiology, 2-photon imaging, and widefield imaging—each integrated with a behavioral interface for operant conditioning (positive reinforcement). We build and operate automated systems for operant conditioning in the mouse home-cage. These methods produce rich datasets, which we then analyze to describe how cortical mechanisms enable listening during auditory task performance. 

Lab members

Nikolas Francis, Ph.D.Principal InvestigatorDepartment of BiologyBrain and Behavior InstituteEmail: cortex [at] umd dot edu
Tausif Khan, B.S.Graduate StudentDepartment of BiologyData Science and Analytics 

Sarah Vaughn, B.S.Faculty AssistantDepartment of Biology
Jonathan DinhUndergraduate StudentNeuroscience MajorNeuroscience Honors  Program
Janasia ThomasUndergraduate StudentUMD-REACH ProgramNeuroscience Major
Abhay KumarUndergraduate StudentNeuroscience Major; Computer Science Major


Gabrielle Stephens (Undergraduate Neuroscience Honors Thesis)Sofie Leusch (Faculty Assistant; Now in MD school @ UVM)Nasiru Gill (Faculty Assistant)Franshesca Orellana CastellanosKristine Hodgson-TorresAnna LamEva Orozco 


UMD Brain and Behavior Institute Seed Grant (2023)NIH Early Career Research Award (R21 DC017829) (2019-2022)


Behtash Babadi, PhD (UMD)Adam Brockett, PhD (UNH)