Marc Sommer, PhD, PI
Principal Investigator
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Associate Professor in Neurobiology
Associate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society
Member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience
Investigator in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
Contact Information


Phone: 919-684-7015


Mailing Address:
Marc A Sommer
1427 CIEMAS, Box 90281
101 Science Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0281

254 Hudson Hall Annex

Sommer Lab

We study neuronal circuits for cognition. Basic research in the lab involves recording and manipulating neurons during visual tasks to learn how brain areas interact during cognition. The results are used for improving neurostimulation for the treatment of psychiatric disorders and designing more naturalistic visuomotor guidance of robots.

Sommer Research

Team TMS

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe, non-invasive form of neuromodulation in which a coil is placed near the head to produce a transient magnetic field that, in turn, induces a time-varying electric field in the brain. Although TMS is approved by the FDA for treatment of depression and migraine and is used widely in cognitive research, its underlying biological mechanisms of action are still poorly understood. Our lab investigates the neural basis of TMS effects to establish principles for rational design of its clinical applications. Our approach is to study the effects of various TMS protocols on single neurons and circuits in the rhesus macaque brain.
Contact: Raveena Kothare 

Team Metacognition

Each decision we make is affected by our past choices and can influence our future choices. This process of linking decisions across time, called metacognition, contributes to our train of thought and, more generally, to cognitive continuity. We aim to discover and characterize the neural circuitry that mediates metacognition in the primate brain. To do this, we record from small populations of neurons during tasks that require metacognition to link one decision to another. The data inform probabilistic, generative models of behavior. Taken together, the biological and computational approaches reveal the interplay between visual perception, memory, planning, and decision-making that results in metacognition.
Contact: Zack Abzug 

Team Corollary Discharge

The image of the world projected onto our retinas is jumpy because we frequently make rapid eye movements called saccades. But, somehow, the brain transforms this chaotic information into a continuous, stable percept. A key factor in this process is the relay of eye movement information, or corollary discharge, to the visual system. We study circuits for corollary discharge and their impact on visual processing using a combination of psychophysics, neural recordings, and computational robotics. In addition to revealing a fundamental component of visual perception, the results inform methods for stabilizing information in systems that use mobile cameras and other sensors.
Contact: Divya Subramanian 

Team Satisficing

In real-world situations, humans often make decisions heuristically, that is, they apply rules of thumb that are satisfactory and suffice for the problem at hand. Such “satisficing” decision-making strategies are often quite successful when subjects face noisy information, time pressure, or other challenges that limit information processing. We investigate how humans and non-human primates choose and utilize heuristic decision-making strategies through psychophysical and neurophysiological experiments. Some work is conducted in the Duke immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE) to investigate satisficing in naturalistic conditions. The overall goal is to model the adaptive paradigms that characterize satisficing for implementation in autonomous systems.
Contact: Anthony Alers 

Team Optogenetics

Using viral methods and gene transfection, we are developing novel methods to control the activity of single neurons and specific neuronal populations in the primate brain. The methods include classical optogenetics, new combinations of bioluminescence with light-sensitive opsins, and viral tract-tracing. Our goal is to modulate the activity of very specific neuronal populations and circuits to determine their roles in cognition and behavior.
Contact: Martin Bohlen 

Team Robotics

Why do we perceive the visual world as stable? The information provided by our eyes is jumpy, because we make rapid, frequent eye movements called saccades. The result is much like a movie filmed with a hand-held video camera (but even worse). Somehow, the brain transforms this chaotic information into a stable percept. One idea is that the stabilization depends on a special class of visually-responsive neurons in the brain. They “sneak a peek” at the part of the visual scene that they will see after the saccade, an operation called presaccadic remapping. A direct test of this idea is nearly impossible; one would have to find all such neurons, silence them, and see if visual perception becomes jumpy when the eyes move. We therefore followed the dictum, “To understand a system, you must try to make it”. We built a system that uses video cameras for eyes, a computer model for a brain, and robots that use the model to guide their arms. We will train the system until robots reach and grab objects accurately even as their cameras/eyes move. After training, we will examine the simulated neurons in the model. If presaccadic remapping is necessary for stabilizing visual inputs, the trained neurons should exhibit the property. We could then computationally manipulate those neurons to understand how they promote visual stability. The robotic system that we develop should be useful for solving myriad problems in neuroscience that are beyond the reach of current biological methods.

Lab Members

Undergraduate Researcher
Postdoctoral Associate, Sommer Lab
Vet Tech III
Lab Manager
BME Graduate Student, Sommer Lab
BME Graduate Student, Sommer Lab
Associate in Research
Engineering Graduate Student, Sommer Lab
Engineering Graduate Student, Sommer Lab
Undergraduate Researcher
Field/Sommer Labs
Undergraduate Researcher


Research Scientists: 

Corrie Camalier (2018-2019) 

Postdoctoral Fellows

Suva Roy (2023; Sponsored guest post-doc working in my lab, from Field lab at UCLA) 

Zachary Abzug (2018) 

Hrishikesh Rao (2017) 

Martin O. Bohlen (Pfizer-NCBiotech Fellow; Hartwell Foundation Biomedical Research Award Fellow; 2016-2022) 

Vincent Prevosto, Ph.D. (2010-2020) 

Michael J. Koval, Ph.D. (2012-2014) 

PHD Alumni

Anthony Alers (GPENG Ph D. Candidate 2016-2024. Defended April 4 , 2024 Title: Neural basis of visuomotor learning in the frontal eye field: an integrated computational and neurophysiological approach.)

Joshua Stivers (Psychology & Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate, co-mentored with Roberto Cabeza; 2018-2021) 

Raveena Kothare (Duke BME Howard G. Clark III Fellow; BME Ph.D. candidate, 2016-2023; finished with an MS in BME) 

Divya Subramanian (Neurobiology Ph.D. candidate, 2016-2022; defended on March 24, 2022. Title: Contributions of Bayesian and Discriminative Models to Active Visual Perception across Saccades.) 

Zachary Abzug (NSF Graduate Research Fellow; Duke Scholars in Neuroscience  Program; BME Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation; BME Ph.D. candidate, 2011-2017; defended on November 3, 2017. 

Title: The Neurocomputational Basis of Serial Decision-Making. 

Hrishikesh Rao (NIH F31 NRSA Fellow; NSF Graduate Research Fellow; IGERT WISeNet Fellow; BME Ph.D. candidate, 2011-2016; defended on October 14, 2016.  Title: Bottom-up and Top-down Mechanisms of Visually-Guided Movements.)

Ramanujan Raghavan (2011-2016; Neurobiology Ph.D. candidate; co-mentored with Steve Lisberger; defended dissertation on October 7, 2016. Title: Analysis of Purkinje Cell Responses in the Oculomotor Vermis during the Execution of Smooth Pursuit Eye Movements.). 

PhD rotation students 

Ergi Spiro (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2023) 

Kennedy Coates (Neurobiology program, 2023) 

Alev Brigande (Neurobiology program, 2022) 

Joshua Stivers (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2018) 

David Murphy (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2016) 

Divya Subramanian (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2015) 

Sam Brudner (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2015) 

Jeffrey Mohl (Neurobiology program, 2014) 

Charlie Giattino (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2014) 

Benjamin Geib (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2013) 

Jake Heffley (Neurobiology program, 2013) 

Hanna Oh (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2013) 

Cassie Kozyrkov (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2011) 

Joseph Barter (Cognitive Neuroscience program, 2011) 

Caroline Drucker (Neurobiology program, 2012) 

Yilei Cai (Neurobiology program, 2012) 

Masters Students 

Kiran Shehnaz Kaur (BME M.S. Program, 2023)

Garima Iyer (BME M.S. Program, 2023)

Cassie Hammond (Spring 2023 BME MS/MEng Research Fellow; BME M.S. Program, 2023-2024) 

Zhixing (Vincent) Dai (Fall 2022 BME MS/MEng Research Fellow; BME M.S. Program, 2021-2022) 

Jingwen Deng (2020 Dean’s Research Award; 2020 BME MS/MEng Research Fellowship; BME M.S. Program, 2020-2021) 

Adrianna Battle (BME M.S. Program, 2019-2020) 

Lucy Liang (BME M.S. Program, 2019-2020) 

Zisheng (Jason) Liang (BME M.S. Program, 2018) 

Lucas Hoffman (BME M.S. Program, 2018-2019) 

Richard Chen (BME M.S. Program, 2018) 

Aoxue (Mia) Miao (BME M.S. Program, 2018-2020) 

Xiaoyu Tong (BME M.S. Program, 2018-2019) 

Yi Zhao (BME M.S. Program, 2017-2018) 

Brandyn Wong (BME M.S. Program, 2017-2018) 

Hala El-Nahal (BME MS-MEng Research Fellow; BME M.S. Program, 2017, Currently Graduate Student in Sommer Lab) 

Josh Wu (BME 4+1 M.S. program, 2016-2018) 

Neerav Goswami (BME M.S. program, 2015-2017; Currently a PhD student in Sommer Lab) 

Dennis Wong (BME M.S. program, 2015-2017) 

Erinn Grigsby (BME M.S. program, 2013-2015; successful oral defense of  dissertation on March 24, 2015.  Title: The Effects of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) on the Neural Activity of Awake Non-Human Primates.) 

Matthew Frank (BME M.S. program, 2015) 

Melina Smith (BME 4+1 M.S. program, 2014-2015)  

Zachary Abzug (NSF Graduate Research Fellow; received MS on way to PhD, 2014) 

Kimi Rafie (BME 4+1 M.S. program, 2013-2014) 

Undergraduate Alumni

Neyla Kirby (2023) 

Miles Bradley (2022-2023) 

Angie Xie (2021-2022) 

Apoorva Das (2020-2023) 

Olivia Leggio (2021) 

Amber Brooks (2020-2023) 

Rahul Mukherji (2020-2021) 

Philip Cho (2018-2021) 

Gabriel Goldhagen (2020) 

Brianna McCollum (REU Fellow from Tennessee State University; 2019) 

Veronica Yuziuk (2019-2020) 

Jason Chou (Pratt Fellow; Grand Challenges Scholar; 2018-2020) 

Zongyu (Zoey) Li (2018) 

Vincent Peng (2018-2019) 

Luiza Wolf (2018-2019) 

Mackenzie Marques (2018-2019) 

Karen Ou (2018-2019) 

Mary Zhang (2016-2019) 

Jin Soo (Andrew) Byun (Computer Science, 2017-2018)  

McKenzie Middlebrooks (Neuroscience Honors thesis project; 2016-2017) 

Amy Xiong (Grand Challenges Scholar; 2016-2017) 

Pum Wiboonsaksakul (Pratt Fellow; 2016-2017) 

Sarah Proctor (BioCoRE Undergraduate Scholar; 2016-2019) 

Jinsu “Jason” Kim (Pratt Fellow; Grand Challenges Scholar; Walter J. Seeley Scholastic Award; Leonardo da Vinci Award; $25k in VentureWell grants for startup  

(co-founder/lead engineer, Physao); Graduated with Distinction; 2015-2016) 

Andrew Toader (Pratt Fellow; Graduated with Distinction; 2015-2016) 

Minyoung Ryoo (Pratt Fellow; Grand Challenges Scholar; Accenture Scholar Graduated with Distinction; 2015-2016) 

Andrew Freyberger (Pratt Fellow; 2015-2016) 

Kimberly Eddleman (2015-2016) 

Melina Smith (Pratt Fellow; Grand Challenges Scholar; 2014-2015; featured speaker at White House BRAIN Initiative Conference in 2014) 

Juwan Hong (Pratt Fellow; 2014-2015) 

Gehua Tong (2015; BME/Neuroscience dual major) 

Brie Jackson (BioCoRE Undergraduate Scholar; 2014) 

Kenneth Padilla (REU Fellow from Puerto Rico; 2013) 

Jessica Cao (Pratt Fellow; Graduated with Distinction; 2013-2014) 

Amit Vora (Pratt Fellow; Graduated with Distinction; 2013-2014) 

Fred Shen (Pratt Fellow; Graduated with Distinction; 2013-2014) 

Radu Darie (Pratt Fellow; Grand Challenges Scholar; Graduated with Distinction; 2012- 2014) 

Frank Lee (Pratt Fellow; 2012-2014) 

Cole Arora (Pratt Fellow; 2012-2014) 

Erinn Grigsby (Pratt Fellow; 2011-2013) 

Kimi Rafie (Pratt Fellow; 2011-2013; Master’s student, graduated 2014) 

Jennifer Villa (Pratt Fellow; Walter J. Seeley Scholastic Award; Leonardo da Vinci  Award; 2012-2013) 

Juan San Juan (Pratt Fellow; 2011-2013) 

Brian Kohen (2011-2013) 

Nicholas Jordan (summer student from Case Western University; 2012) 

Qifang (Yvonne) Bi (2011-2012) 

Sean Sketch (REU Fellow from Princeton University; 2011) 

Catherine Hartman (2010; Then was a graduate student at Harvard University) 

YiShin Chang (2011) 

High School Students: 

Amy Cheng (2018) 

Grishma Patel (2018-2019) 

Surasya Guduru (2017) 

Anna Hattle (2015-2016)

Bailey Blankenship (2014-2015)

Associates in Research: 

Tierney Daw (2019-2021) 

Mackenzie Marques (2019-2020) 

Neerav Goswami (2019-2020; Currently a PhD student in Sommer Lab) 

Brandyn Wong (2019) 

Hala El-Nahal (2018; Currently a PhD student in Sommer Lab) 

Melina Smith (2015-2017) 

Jerry Dahlke (2013-2014) 

Frank W. Petraglia III (2010-2012) 

Kedar Prabhudesai (2011-2012) 

Tom Heil (2011) 

Sommer Teaching

Current Courses

  • BME 301L/NEUROSCI 301L: Biolectricity
  • BME 517/NEUROSCI 507: Neuronal Control of Movement
  • BME 790L: Bioelectrical Engineering
  • NEUROBIO 720C: Concepts in Neuroscience II - Sensory/Motor Integration
  • NEUROBIO 760S: Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience II 

Sommer Publications

Goetz, Stefan M., Bryan Howell, Boshuo Wang, Zhongxi Li, Marc A. Sommer, Angel V. Peterchev, and Warren M. Grill. “Isolating two sources of variability of subcortical stimulation to quantify fluctuations of corticospinal tract excitability.” Clin Neurophysiol 138 (February 24, 2022): 134–42.

Caruso, Valeria C., Daniel S. Pages, Marc A. Sommer, and Jennifer M. Groh. “Compensating for a shifting world: evolving reference frames of visual and auditory signals across three multimodal brain areas.” Journal of Neurophysiology 126, no. 1 (July 2021): 82–94.

Liu, Sicong, Jillian M. Clements, Elayna P. Kirsch, Hrishikesh M. Rao, David J. Zielinski, Yvonne Lu, Boyla O. Mainsah, et al. “Psychophysiological Markers of Performance and Learning during Simulated Marksmanship in Immersive Virtual Reality.” J Cogn Neurosci 33, no. 7 (June 1, 2021): 1253–70.

Tremblay, Sébastien, Leah Acker, Arash Afraz, Daniel L. Albaugh, Hidetoshi Amita, Ariana R. Andrei, Alessandra Angelucci, et al. “An Open Resource for Non-human Primate Optogenetics.” Neuron 108, no. 6 (December 23, 2020): 1075-1090.e6.

Cushnie, Adriana K., Hala G. El-Nahal, Martin O. Bohlen, Paul J. May, Michele A. Basso, Piercesare Grimaldi, Maya Zhe Wang, Marron Fernandez de Velasco Ezequiel, Marc A. Sommer, and Sarah R. Heilbronner. “Using rAAV2-retro in rhesus macaques: Promise and caveats for circuit manipulation.” Journal of Neuroscience Methods 345 (November 2020): 108859.

Bohlen, Martin O., Thomas J. McCown, Sara K. Powell, Hala G. El-Nahal, Tierney Daw, Michele A. Basso, Marc A. Sommer, and R Jude Samulski. “Adeno-Associated Virus Capsid-Promoter Interactions in the Brain Translate from Rat to the Nonhuman Primate.” Human Gene Therapy 31, no. 21–22 (November 2020): 1155–68.

Gamboa Arana, Olga Lucia, Hannah Palmer, Moritz Dannhauer, Connor Hile, Sicong Liu, Rena Hamdan, Alexandra Brito, et al. “Intensity- and timing-dependent modulation of motion perception with transcranial magnetic stimulation of visual cortex.” Neuropsychologia 147 (October 2020): 107581.

Gamboa, Olga Lucia, Alexandra Brito, Zachary Abzug, Tracy D’Arbeloff, Lysianne Beynel, Erik A. Wing, Moritz Dannhauer, et al. “Application of long-interval paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation to motion-sensitive visual cortex does not lead to changes in motion discrimination.” Neurosci Lett 730 (June 21, 2020): 135022.

Gamboa Arana, Olga Lucia, Hannah Palmer, Moritz Dannhauer, Connor Hile, Sicong Liu, Rena Hamdan, Alexandra Brito, et al. “Dose-dependent enhancement of motion direction discrimination with transcranial magnetic stimulation of visual cortex,” June 15, 2020.

Akbar, Navid, Mathew Yarossi, Marc Martinez-Gost, Marc A. Sommer, Moritz Dannhauer, Sumientra Rampersad, Dana Brooks, Eugene Tunik, and Deniz Erdoğmuş. “Mapping Motor Cortex Stimulation to Muscle Responses: A Deep Neural Network Modeling Approach.” In The ... International Conference on Pervasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments : Petra ... International Conference on Pervasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments, Vol. 2020, 2020.