The Team


Sam A. Golden, PHD

Assistant Professor

Sam received his BS in Neuroscience from Bates College (Lewiston, ME) in 2006, PhD in Neuroscience from the Icahn School of Medicine (New York City, NY) in 2015 under Dr. Scott J. Russo, and completed in Postdoctoral Fellowship at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Baltimore, MD) in 2018 under Dr. Yavin Shaham.  Sam joined the University of Washington Department of Biological Structure in 2019, with a co-appointment as a participating faculty in the The UW Center of Excellence in Neurobiology of Addiction, Pain, and Emotion (NAPE).

Sam's scientific interests encompass understanding the psychological and neural mechanisms guiding reward processing. He is particularly interested in understanding how neuropsychiatric disorders- such as maladaptive aggression, depression and substance abuse - subvert basic reward circuitry to manifest pathological behavior. Currently, he aims to better define the intersection of aggression and motivation, and identify the cellular and circuit mechanisms that control the transition from adaptive aggression to maladaptive  aggression seeking behavior.



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Simon Nilsson, PhD

Senior Postdoctoral Fellow

Simon completed postdoctoral work at the University of Cambridge (under Tim Bussey/Lisa Saksida/Trevor Robbins), State University of New York at Binghamton (under David Jentsch), and NYU (under Adam Mar). He received his PhD through an industrial scholarship at the University of Sussex and Eli Lilly Ltd. His work has focused on the use and development/validation of cognitive tests of ‘executive functions’, impulse control and attention in rodents, often by using transgenic animal models, pharmacological and chemo-genetic techniques. Simon’s general interest is in the neural mechanisms supporting the behavioral and cognitive domains disrupted in psychopathology, and methods through which they can become identified and targeted for improvement.




Eric Szelenyi, PhD

Senior Postdoctoral Fellow

Eric received his BA in psychology/biochemistry from Shippensburg University (Shippensburg, PA) in 2006 and conducted integrative physiology research for the Department of Defense (USARIEM, Natick, MA) from 2006-2010. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from State University of New York at Stony Brook (Stony Brook, NY) in 2017, where he completed his thesis work under Dr. Pavel Osten at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Prior to joining the Golden lab at UW, Eric worked as a Scientist at Allen Institute for Brain Science (Seattle, WA) in the Molecular Genetics department, where he supported transgenic and viral technology projects from 2017-2019.  Eric’s general scientific interest includes deciphering brain-wide cellular ensembles and their dynamics that underlie behavior in health and disease. In the lab, he plans to develop and combine whole-brain imaging techniques with genetic, viral, and behavioral assays in order to identify and dissect the motivational circuitry underlying aggression and social behavior.



Nastacia Goodwin, BS

Graduate Student

Nastacia received her BA in psychology from Smith College (Northampton, MA) in 2014. She spent four years as a lab manager after graduation, first working with Dr. Annaliese Beery at Smith and then Dr. Devanand Manoli at UCSF studying the neurobiological underpinnings of peer versus mate sociality in voles. She is excited to use her experience with behavioral work and molecular biology to study the neural ensembles driving appetitive versus reactive aggression.



Briana Smith, BS

Post-baccalaureate Student

Briana is a post-baccalaureate student at the University of Washington, where she is studying computational neuroscience and conducting research in preparation for graduate school. She received her BS in Chemical Engineering from Auburn University, and she is driven to use her knowledge and experience as a chemical engineer to contribute to the field of neuroscience. Her research interests include investigating the impact of emotional trauma on brain physiology, and how these effects contribute to maladaptive cognitive and behavioral conditions.



Liana Bloom, BA

Post-baccalaureate Student

Liana received her BA in Medical Anthropology and Global Health from the University of Washington in 2019 and is working as a research assistant in preparation for medical school. Her previous experiences in research include working at the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and collecting data for the department of Public Health’s Seattle Soda-Tax Impact project. Her general interest is in experiencing a biological laboratory environment after participating in mainly social science research. She is intrigued by the work being done to investigate the neurological pathways related to conditions such as aggression and depression.  



Jia Jie (JJ) Choong, BS

Laboratory Manager

JJ received his BS in Chemical Engineering from Iowa State University (ISU) in 2017, while working as an Information Technology Specialist in ISU's IT Department. He then worked in a high-throughput genotyping laboratory at Bayer, focused on the development of automation of qPCR and dPCR. JJ's general interest is in laboratory automation and statistical modelling for data analysis.



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Sophia Hwang

Undergraduate Student

Sophia is currently a second year undergraduate at the University of Washington studying Electrical Engineering. She is interested in the intersection between engineering and neuroscience and would like to become involved in the medical industry, specifically using electric devices and data analysis to tackle neurological problems.



Annette mercedes

Undergraduate Student

Annette is a fourth year undergraduate at the University of Washington studying Biological Anthropology and Physiology. Annette brings a wealth of perspective to the lab due to her previous experience in healthcare as a pharmacy technician. She is interested in how evolution, climate change and anthropogenic influence on the environment interact to determine the dynamics of pathogens and emerging disease.



Would you like to join the lab?

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Please see our application page for more information on currently available positions.