We are passionately committed to providing an inclusive and supportive environment for trainees from all backgrounds. We strive to provide our lab members with the mentoring, resources, and opportunities necessary to develop as researchers and advance their careers – as scientists, physicians, or otherwise.

Morgan James, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor | Department of Psychiatry

Dr. James received his PhD in 2014 in the laboratory of Dr. Christopher Dayas at the University of Newcastle in Australia, where he studied the neural circuits that underlie drug-seeking behaviors. He then completed postdoctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. Gary Aston-Jones, where he combined several advanced neuroscience techniques with sophisticated animal models of addiction to further probe the neural circuits that drive reward-seeking behavior. His current lab utilizes a cross-disciplinary approach to understanding the brain circuits involved in disorders of motivation (including addiction and binge eating disorder) with the goal of guiding and informing translational outcomes. Outside of the lab, Morgan is a keen home brewer and enjoys surfing at the Jersey shore.


Current Lab Members

Shayna O'Connor

Graduate Research Technician

Shayna graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Psychology. While there, she worked with Dr. Gary Aston-Jones studying the role of orexin in animal models of addiction. She plans to pursue a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience. In her free time, Shayna enjoys snowboarding and going to concerts.

Emma Schweitzer

Rotating Graduate Student

Emma is a PhD student in Neuroscience at the Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Prior to joining the James Lab she studied decision-making behavior and the role of oxytocin in mediating social reward value in Dr. Tim Hackenberg's lab at Reed College, where she received her B.A. in Neuroscience. Her research interests encompass how neural circuitry/mechanisms are altered in addiction and how this in turn impacts reward-seeking behavior and underlying neurobiology. When not in lab, Emma enjoys baking and ceramics/3D printing assembly.

Sam Liu

Master's Student

Sam, or “Sam the Man” as he is often referred to in lab meetings, is currently working towards his MS in Biomedical Sciences after previously earning a BA in Cell Biology and Neuroscience here at Rutgers. Originally working with Dr. Nicholas Bello in the Animal Sciences department, Sam represents a collective effort in evaluating the relationship between obesity and the orexin system in regards to binge eating disorder, with collaborators including Dr. James, Dr. Aston-Jones, and Dr. Bello. Sam spends his time playing too much Valorant but makes up for it by volunteering as an EMT and working as a camp nurse during a pandemic. 

Kaushanie Fernandopulle

Master's Student

Kaushanie graduated from Rutgers University in 2019 with a BA in Biological Sciences. She is currently working towards a Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences. Her previous research experience is with Dr. Gary Aston-Jones under the guidance of Dr. Morgan James, exploring the connection between the hypothalamic orexin system and the pathological motivation for palatable food. Kaushanie is also currently a medical scribe, and is interested in applying to medical school in the near future. Outside of the lab, she enjoys hiking, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with friends.

Orion Yedidia

Postbac Student

Orion graduated from Rutgers University in 2020 with a degree in Cognitive Neuroscience and minor in psychology. His senior thesis, titled “An Examination of the Orexin (Hypocretin) System in Opioid Dependence and Opioid Withdrawal-Induced Hyperkatefia,” evaluated addiction behaviors in rats and argued for orexin-targeting pharmacotherapies as a potential treatment for addiction. His undergraduate work at the Brain Health Institute combined neuroscience techniques with animal models of addiction. Orion is currently a post-bac preparing for medical school.

Jackie Mehr

Undergraduate Researcher

Jackie is a third-year undergraduate student double majoring in Biotechnology and Women's and Gender Studies. Her research focuses on understanding the connection between dysregulated sleep and disorders of motivation. Jackie plans to pursue a career in translational research after graduation. In her free time, Jackie enjoys rock climbing and designing lab websites.

Previous Trainees

Students mentored by Dr. James in the Aston-Jones lab

Mohita Jariwala | Undergraduate Researcher (2019-2020)

Medical student at New Jersey Medical School

Noah Shin | Undergraduate Researcher (2019-2020)

Post-baccalaureate preparing for Dental School

Asrita Vattikonda | Undergraduate Researcher (2016-2019)

Medical student at Jefferson Medical School

Allen Chang | Master's Student (2017-2019), Undergraduate Researcher (2016-2017)

PhD candidate at the Medical University of South Carolina

Brian Liu | SURP Research Intern (2019)

Undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University

Julia Nauman | SURP Research Intern (2018)

Lab Manager at Michigan State University

Kevin Peng | Undergraduate Researcher (2017-2018)

Medical student at the Ohio State University College of Medicine

Brooke Bender | SURP Research Intern (2016)

PhD candidate at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh

Ami Ghadia | Undergraduate Researcher (2015-2017)

Dentistry student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine

Nikki Koll | Post-baccalaureate Researcher (2015-2016)

Medical student at the New York Institute of Technology College of Medicine

Jasmine Lin | Undergraduate Researcher (2015-2017)

Medical student at the New Jersey Medical School