Nina So

  • Scholarship in 2014 at Columbia University
Nina's interest in neuroscience began at the University of Virginia, where she received a BA in Biology and Music. In the lab of Dr. Emilie Rissman, she investigated the molecular underpinnings and social regulation of aggressive behavior. At Columbia University, she worked with Dr. James Curley to develop novel methods to analyze social interactions in groups of animals, and to relate behavioral patterns with gene expression patterns in the brain.

With a keen interest in language, music and animal communication, Nina joined the lab of Dr. Sarah Woolley, where she studies the communication signals of songbirds and how neurons in the auditory system represent acoustic features of these sounds.


Songbirds, like humans, communicate by the exchange of  vocal signals. These birds produce song, which is an acoustically complex and learned vocalization. Song is crucial for courtship, pair bond maintenance, and individual recognition.

Different birds produce distinct songs, which differ in temporal and spectral parameters such as rhythm and pitch. Birds can easily distinguish between songs of different individuals, and the acoustic features of song guide their behaviors. For example, female birds prefer songs of male birds that have more stable pitch. 

How does the brain encode and extract the acoustic features of song that are important for behavior? Song elicits diverse patterns of activity in neurons in the auditory forebrain of songbirds. So's goal is to understand the neural representations of complex sounds that give rise to different perceptual dimensions using neurophysiology, behavioral testing and computational methods.