Nelson Totah received his BS in neuroscience and behavioral biology from Emory University in 2004. While at Emory, he was mentored by Dr. Paul Plotsky (Dept. of Psychiatry) and he developed a passion for neuroscience research through studying the physiology of the brain’s response to stress. Nelson moved to Pittsburgh in 2005 to study as a doctoral student at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh under Dr. Bita Moghaddam. Nelson studied the neural mechanisms underlying attention and decision-making by recording the electrical activity of neurons in the rat prefrontal cortex during operant tasks. He also studied how neuromodulators, such as dopamine, affect cortical processing during decision-making by recording the activity of dopamine neurons.
After getting his PhD in 2011, Nelson joined the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tuebingen, Germany as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Physiology of Cognitive Processes with Prof. Nikos Logothetis. At the Max Planck Institute, Nelson studies how attention and norepinephrine modulate the activity of sensory neurons that encode perception via a rat’s whiskers. Nelson’s work is supported by a Marie Curie grant from the European Union.
In addition to his passion for understanding the brain and improving science education, Nelson has been a licensed Emergency Medical Technician and worked for 911 EMS services in Houston, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. He also worked on a U.S. federal disaster medical response team.