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Viviana Gradinaru

Fall 2013

One of the most difficult questions I’m often asked isn’t about my research but about my time at Caltech. I have a feeling that most Caltech alumni find this question hard to answer in a way that truly encapsulates their experience. I could say Caltech was a tough academic environment, or it was a place where my now husband, Dr. Andrei Faraon ’04, and I fell in love with ballroom dancing, but that doesn’t capture the whole story.

It wasn’t until recently that I came upon the answer that I feel confident sharing: At Caltech, I was taken seriously. By providing a safety net, Caltech allowed me to dream wildly.  

When I arrived as a transfer student from the University of Bucharest, Romania, I was immediately seen as a serious scientist by the Caltech community. I discovered my passion and love for neuroscience by participating in a SURF program with Professor Paul Patterson. In Patterson’s Lab, I worked on a motor-disorder project, specifically Huntington’s disorder, to try and understand what causes the disease. Not many undergrads outside of Caltech receive the opportunity to partake in this kind of research. I felt honored, but at the same time I knew I wanted to do more.

The desire to do more, to dream wildly, motivated me to join Professor Deisseroth’s Lab at Stanford while I was pursuing my PhD. In his lab I was part of developing a new technology called “optogenetics”. Optogenetics gave me a tool to study circuits involved in motor behavior like those affected by Parkinson’s disorder.  After receiving my PhD, I knew of only one place where I wanted to continue my research.

Currently, I’m an Assistant Professor of Biology at Caltech. In my lab we study the mechanism of action for deep brain stimulation and continue to push forward optogenetic technologies. I work with a team of nine and, as I mature professionally, I’m transitioning to be a part of the Caltech safety net for my team and other future scientists.

Because of the gifts made by alumni like you and me, Caltech continues its tradition of seeing students as serious scientists and maintaining its stance on supporting innovative research. I will always be grateful to faculty, staff, fellow house and classmates, and my family for believing in me and my work.

Every gift, every alum, any amount – you make an impact on continuing Caltech’s legacy of fostering passion, encouraging creativity, and helping your fellow Techer “dream wildly”. Thank you for reading my story and considering a gift to support the New Generation of Techers.

Yours truly,

Dr. Viviana Gradinaru ‘05