Meet the Lab


Victoria P. Connaughton, Ph.D. – PI

Dr. Connaughton’s research seeks to identify the neurobiological bases of visual processing in the vertebrate retina and factors that may affect or alter retinal circuits resulting in vision loss, such as disease conditions or exposure to pharmaceutical or environmental agents.  The research approach used in my lab is interdisciplinary, combining physiological, anatomical, and behavioral techniques to identify visual system deficits in both developing and adult animals. In addition to being an active research scientist and faculty member, she is a strong, consistent supporter and advocate of student research.  All experiments in her lab are performed in collaboration with graduate and undergraduate student research assistants, and many of my publications include student co-authors.  To date, Dr. Connaughton supervised > 50 undergraduate student research projects and > 40 graduate theses.  Her students have presented their work at a variety of venues, such as high school science fair competitions, professional meetings, and student research conferences, and also obtained research funding. Dr. Connaughton includes student co-authors on my publications and, after graduating, most of my students continued their training as graduate and/or medical school students.


Meg Bentley, Ph.D 

Dr. Bentley earned a PhD in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Northwestern University studying the role of protein ubiquitination and the APC/C complex in Drosophila melongaster. After research and teaching post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard Medical School, she decided to dedicate her research to science teaching and curriculum development. Currently, she teaches Biology 100, 110, 210 and upper level courses for majors, including developmental and cell biology. She is also developing interdisciplinary general education courses for non-majors and laboratory, research-based courses for science majors. Dr. Bentley currently works with students investigating the aberrant Notch Signaling in the hyperglycemic larval brain.


Wade Kothmann, Ph.D.

Dr. Kothmann received his PhD from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston where he studied signal transduction pathways that mediate adaptive reorganization of retinal circuits in response to changes in the visual environment (e.g. a room getting brighter or darker). He then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke before joining the Biology Department at American University, where he currently teaches various biology courses as well as upper-level and graduate neuroscience courses. When not teaching he continues to investigate how plasticity in retinal circuit organization mediates visual adaptation. Undergraduates interested in learning about visual neuroscience at the molecular and cellular level should inquire about summer research opportunities and/or the 5-year combined BS/MS degree program in Biology.


Mikayla Crowley-Perry, Laboratory Manager & Senior Researcher, 2017 – Present

Mikayla’s research interests revolve around developmental neurobiology and pharmacology. Specifically, she is interested in examining the effects of juvenile hyperglycemia and SSRIs on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Additionally, she is interested in examining the long term cognitive and physiological effects of sustaining a childhood traumatic brain injury. Mikayla completed her postbaccalaureate program at American University in 2019 and will remain a member of the ZENV lab studying the long term effects of endocrine disrupting compounds on the visual system while applying to medical scientist programs. She is also a laboratory instructor in the Department of Chemistry, and enjoys reading, sewing, hiking with her dog Ruger, and exploring the DMV.


Ellie McCarthy, Behavior, Cognition and Neuroscience (BCaN) Ph.D Student, 2019 – Present

Ellie is a first year Ph.D student at American University. She is currently fulfilling her MS degree requirement by studying the effects of long term hyperglycemia and is interested in determining whether zebrafish can recover from extended glucose exposure. Ellie is also interested in using the zebrafish model to explore neuropharmacology, specifically, the effects of drugs of abuse on cognition and vision. She currently teaches behavioral neuroscience. In her free time, Ellie enjoys cross-stitch, cross-fit, running Ragnar relays and reading. 


Aaron Hendrix, Post-baccalaureate Student, 2019 – Present

Aaron is a pre-medical post-baccalaureate student, currently working through a two-year program. He is investigating optimal techniques to prepare retinal tissue for neurotransmitter detection through fast scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV). Aaron aspires to become medical doctor. He also works as an EMT at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. In his spare time, Aaron writes film reviews as a staff writer for Talk Film Society, a film/television news and reviews website.


Angelo Barberio, B.S. Student, 2017 – Present

Angelo is a senior at American University and has assisted in multiple projects, including determining the effects of feeding as a learned behavior in zebrafish larvae and the role of serotonin and SSRIs in amphipod photobehavior. Angelo is now a key member on an endocrine disrupting compound project. In addition to being in the ZENV, he is a member of the Bethesda Fire Department and the American University Wrestling Student Manager.


Rachel Bernardo, B.S. Student, 2018 – Present

Rachel Bernardo is a senior public health major and biology minor at AU. In the ZENV lab, for her Honors in Health Studies independent research project, Rachel is studying how acute developmental exposure to tributyltin (TBT), a well-known anti-estrogenic environmental EDC, affects visual development. Formerly, Rachel was a research assistant to Dr. Meg Bentley and Juliana Delgado, and examined the Notch Signaling Pathway to study the effects of hyperglycemia and correlations to Alzheimer’s Disease. After AU, Rachel aspires to attend medical school. Rachel is an undergraduate teaching assistant for BIO-110 lab. She recently studied abroad in Nairobi, Kenya, where she completed a series of public health courses and interned at a pediatric HIV clinic. Rachel enjoys skiing and horseback riding.


Jeremy Popwitz, B.S. Student, 2018 – Present

Jeremy is a senior at American University studying biology with minor in history. He has worked with both Dr. Kothmann and Dr. Connaughton, using confocal microscopy to study retinal circuit organization and immunohistochemistry to determine specific cells in the retina that are affected by disrupting the estrogen signaling system. Jeremy spent summer 2019 at the National Institutes of Health (NICHD) classifying mutations in the axon terminal of zebrafish larvae. Jeremy hopes to complete a research postbaccalaureate program at the NIH before graduate school. He also enjoys baseball, live music, and science fiction.


Erica Winston, B.S. Student, 2019 – Present

Erica is a senior at American University studying biology on a pre-vet track.She is excited to explore the ways in which endocrine disruptors affect long term development and vision in zebrafish and specializes in animal behavior assay and analysis. She hopes to one day work in wildlife rehabilitation or conservation biology. Erica is an undergraduate teaching assistant for Cell Biology and in her free time, loves all forms of dance, hiking, exploring the outdoors, and spending time with her cat,   activities, and spending time with her cat, Cholula.


Jude Zeino, B.S. Student, 2020 – Present

Jude is a junior at American University studying public health with a minor in biology. He is currently involved in the endocrine disrupting compound project, focusing on behavioral data analysis and animal husbandry. Formerly, he was a research assistant for MedStar analyzing themes, impacts, and efficacy of their Good Catch program for patient safety. He also participated in a research study regarding open and closed reduction procedures and their effects on patients with osteoporosis. In addition, he is a member of AU’s Club Soccer team and recently studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. After AU, his aspirations include attending medical school and practicing in the field of orthopedics.