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Donna J. Calu, Ph.D.

I graduated from University of Maryland, College Park with an undergraduate degree in Neurobiology and Physiology. I completed my PhD at University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, working with Geoffrey Schoenbaum to study the role of amygdala neural activity in attention and associative learning processes. I am a proud Program in Neuroscience (PIN) student. As a postdoc in the laboratory of Yavin Shaham at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), I used an optogenetic approach to examine the role of medial prefrontal cortex in relapse to palatable food seeking. In 2011, I accepted the unique opportunity to become an Early Independent Scientist.

I started Calu Lab at NIDA in the Behavioral Neuroscience Research Branch ​with the help of a handful of talented young scientists.  There we built a research program investigating the behavioral and brain basis of addiction vulnerability.


In Fall of 2015, Calu Lab moved when I became an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. Read more about the excellent team below! Thanks to their hard work, I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2022. 

Principal Investigator

The Calu lab conducts behavioral and systems neuroscience studies to elucidate the brain systems driving individual differences in reward learning and motivation that predict addiction vulnerability. We probe amygdala, cortical and striatal brain circuitry, prior to drug experience, to determine how engagement of these brain pathways during learning relates to addiction vulnerability phenotypes. We also examine how these brain systems are changed by voluntary drug experience and dependence to drive drug seeking and drug taking. These preclinical studies may yield new biomarkers of addiction vulnerability and identify new prevention and diagnostic strategies for treatment of addiction.

Outside of lab life, I get by with a lot of help from my family, friends and goldendoodle. I enjoy yoga, meditation (or at least deep(er) breathing), live music, dancing around, walking, biking, cooking/baking and living with my husband, our two cool kids and our goldendoodle, Junior. 

Research Gate




David Martin

David Martin, Ph.D.

Research Associate

I completed my undergraduate studies at Louisiana State University, earning a B.S. in Chemistry and a minor in Mathematics.  My interests in neuropharmacology led me to the lab of Dr. Charles Nichols at LSU Health Sciences Center, where I developed neuronal sorting approaches suitable for isolating specific neurons from non-genetically modified animals.  Using these techniques, I identified genetic responses to 5-HT2A ligands in specific neuronal subtypes of the cortex.  As a postdoc in the Calu Lab, I am studying the intertwined mechanisms underlying learning and addiction by using a combination of electrophysiological, behavioral, and pharmacological approaches. In addition to laboratory work, I also greatly enjoy the outdoors through playing soccer, biking, windsurfing, fishing, and skiing.

Sara Keefer

Sara Keefer, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow (soon to be PI of Behavioral Neuroscience lab at Gettysburg College)

I became fascinated with research and behavioral neuroscience during my undergraduate studies at Shippensburg University, where I received my B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Biology. During my studies, I became interested in studying appetitive motivation and pursued these interests for my graduate school training with Dr. Gorica Petrovich at Boston College. I studied the role of the basolateral amygdala and its interactions with the medial prefrontal cortex during appetitive learning. My graduate training resulted in a deep appreciation and understanding of the role of how neural circuitries can influence behavior. I joined the Calu lab to further understand the differential engagement of similar circuitries between subjects that display flexible and inflexible appetitive behaviors using a combination of behavioral, electrophysiological, pharmacological, and chemogenetic methods. Outside of research, I spend much of my time with my daughter and husband and enjoy espresso and running sans stroller.

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Cassie Stapf
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Cassie Stapf

Graduate Student 

I graduated from the University of Scranton with a bachelor’s degrees in
Neuroscience and Philosophy and a minor in Chemistry. As an
undergraduate, I was able to pursue my interest in research and behavioral
neuroscience at Scranton with Dr. Patrick Orr working to study the effects of
Tylenol administration on memory consolidation. Additionally, during the
summer prior to Junior year, I worked with Dr. Andreia Mortensen at Drexel
University testing the efficacy of positive allosteric modulators of the EAAT2
transporter following TBI. Deciding to focus on the neurobiology of the
motivation systems and being interested in individual differences in
vulnerability to addictive behaviors, I joined the Calu lab in 2020. Currently, I
am focused on a project examining the interaction of individual and sex
differences on behavioral flexibility and the influence of
endocannabinoids on these behaviors. Outside of the lab I enjoy reading,
volunteering, exploring Baltimore neighborhoods, and spending time with my
rescue pup, Millie.

Angel Delgado

Angel Delgado

Research Technician

I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology. As an undergraduate I worked in the lab of Dr. Daniel O’Connor, studying the importance of cortical processing and real-time adaptation of sensorimotor sequences through tactile-tongue detection and optogenetic inhibition. Following graduation, I worked as a post-baccalaureate CRTA fellow at the National Cancer Institute under the supervision of Dr. Jagan Muppidi. At the NIH-NCI, I contributed towards further understanding the role of B-cells in the induction of B-cell derived lymphomas through FACS and IHC/IF– focusing primarily in Peyer’s patch germinal centers and the splenic marginal zone. I joined the Calu lab in 2021 as a laboratory technician, with the goal of supporting an ongoing project involving the treatment of opioid use disorders through MR-guided low-intensity focused ultrasound in the nucleus accumbens. My interests outside of research include hiking, running, and exploring new local restaurants.

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Sam Bacharach
Utsav Gyawali
Rotating Students and Volunteers

Calu Lab Graduates!
Sam Bacharach, PhD.

Graduate Student

Sam's PhD and funded NRSA project in the Calu Lab examined the interaction of dopamine and endocannabinoids in cue-motivated learning in sign-tracking rats.  Outside of the lab, Sam is an active cellist and performs with several orchestral and chamber groups. Sam is now a postdoc in the lab of Amber Alhadeff at UPenn Monell Center. 

Research Gate profile


Utsav Gyawali PhD.

Utsav's thesis project investigated the role of extended amygdala in incubation of opiate seeking and sign-tracking using behavioral, in vivo fiber photometry and pharmacological tools. His interests outside of lab include camping, hiking, playing string instruments, and exploring Baltimore. Utsav is now a postdoc in the lab of Morgan James at Rutgers University.

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Rotating Graduate Students and Current Volunteers

We are grateful for the interest and hard work of rotating graduate students and student volunteers!



Program in Neuroscience:

Alex Wiltse, Mikah Green, Amanda Pacheco-Spiewak, Sonia Malaiya

Previous Calu Lab Members

Yu-Wei Chen, Ph.D.
Helen Nasser, Ph.D.
Dan Kochli, Ph.D. 

Post-Bac Students Research Technicians and Undergrads
Ellen Lesser, B.A.
Danielle Lafferty, B.A.
Kimberly Fiscella, B.A.
Sam Bacharach, B.A.
Alex Kawa, PhDJules
Anne Tobin
Jules Chabot, B.A.

Janai Williams
Emily Park
Satvik Pendem
Malik Carrol
Caleb Park
Camron Piotrowski
Anne Tobin
Hope Nyarady
Monali Gandhi
Naru Kang
Akshaya Ganesh
Natalia Rincon

Previous Lab Members
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