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Vikas Bhandawat, PhD

Vikas Bhandawat, PhD

Associate Professor
School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems

Office: Bossone 602
Phone: 215.895.1959
Website: Bhandawat Laboratory


A seemingly simple task such as walking to one’s favorite coffee shop involves behaviors that unfold on multiple timescales: On a short timescale (< 1 second), one must move one’s legs on an uneven surface and maintain balance. On a medium timescale (~ few seconds) one must walk relatively straight on a sidewalk. On a longer timescale (~ minutes), one has to follow the street signs to navigate.

The mission of my lab is to take an integrated approach to understand how behavior at these multiple timescales arises from the interaction between the brain, the body and the world. We have homed in on legged locomotion in Drosophila (or fruit flies) as a uniquely appropriate system for studying this problem. The advantage in using Drosophila is that instead of ~1010 neurons in the mammalian brain, they have just 105 neurons, making them more tractable. Moreover, the powerful genetic toolkit in Drosophila allow us to label, silence or activate individual neurons, enabling us to study the neural basis of locomotion with unparalleled specificity.

Our research program is highly interdisciplinary: We employ imaging techniques to dissect how neurons are connected to each other. We have developed techniques to measure electrical signals from single neurons in behaving flies to understand how they encode sensory information, make decisions and control actions. We have also developed behavioral paradigms to make a quantitative assessment of flies’ behavioral output. These experimental approaches are combined with computational approaches to understand the principles underlying neural computations on each of these multiple time scales.

Our multidisciplinary research also supports our educational objective: to create the next generation of professionals with a truly multidisciplinary skill set necessary to tackle complex, real-world problems.

Education and Positions Held

  • 2019-Present Associate Professor
     School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems

  • 2010-2019 Assistant Professor
     Department of Biology and Duke Institute of Brain Sciences
     Duke University

  • 2005-2009 Postdoctoral Scholar
     Advisor: Prof. Rachel Wilson
     Harvard Medical School

  • 1999-2005 Graduate Student
     Advisor: Prof. King-Wai Yau
     Department of Neuroscience
     Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
     Baltimore, MD
     Thesis: Elementary Events Underlying Olfactory Transduction

  • 1993-1998 MS in Chemistry (Integrated BS and MS)
     Indian Institute of Technology
     Kanpur, India

Research Interests

Sensorimotor integration, whole-cell patch clamp and imaging in behaving animals, optogenetics, neuromechanics, locomotion.


  • G. Antoniak, T. Biswas & V. Bhandawat. 2019 “Spring-loaded inverted pendulum goes through two contraction-extension cycles during the single stance phase of walking” (bioRxiv 509687)
    Link: doi: 10.1101/509687.

  • L.Tao, S. Ozarkar, J. Beck & V. Bhandawat. 2019 “Statistical structure of locomotion and its modulation by odors”. eLife 8:e41235
    Link: doi: 10.7554/eLife.41235

  • C. Chun, T. Biswas & V. Bhandawat. 2018 “Kinematic and biomechanical analyses in Drosophila suggests that most legged locomotion in insects can be understood within a single framework.” (bioRxiv 455246)
    Link: doi: 10.1101/455246.

  • T. Biswas, S. Rao & V. Bhandawat. 2018 “A simple extension of inverted pendulum template to explain features of slow walking.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 457, 112-123.
    Link: doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2018.08.027

  • C. Hsu & V. Bhandawat. 2016 “Organization of descending neurons in Drosophila.” 2016. Scientific Reports 6: 20259,
    Link: doi: 10.1038/srep20259.

  • S.H. Jung, C. Hueston, V. Bhandawat. 2015. “Odor-identity dependent motor programs underlie behavioral responses to odors.” eLife 4: e11092,.
    Link: doi: 10.7554/eLife.11092

  • K. Tschida & V. Bhandawat. 2015. “Activity in descending dopaminergic neurons represents but is not required for leg movements in the fruit fly Drosophila.” Physiological Reports 2015 3 (3), Article number: 12322. doi:10.14814/phy2.12322.
    Link: doi: 10.14814/phy2.12322

  • V. Bhandawat, G. Maimon, M.H. Dickinson & R.I. Wilson. 2010. “Olfactory modulation of flight in Drosophila is sensitive, selective and rapid.” Journal of Experimental Biology 213, 3625-3635.

  • S.R. Olsen*, V. Bhandawat* & R.I. Wilson. 2010 “Divisive normalization in olfactory population codes.” Neuron 66(2):287-99.

  • V. Bhandawat, J. Reisert & K.-W. Yau. 2010. “Signaling by olfactory receptor neuron near threshold.” PNAS 2010 107(43): 18682-18687.

  • J.H Singer, E. Glowatzki , T. Moser , B.W. Strowbridge , V. Bhandawat , A.P. Sampath. 2009. “Functional Properties of Synaptic Transmission in Primary Sense Organs.” Journal of Neuroscience 29: 12802-12806.

  • V. Bhandawat, S.R. Olsen, M.L. Schlief, N. Gouwens & R.I. Wilson. 2007. “Sensory processing in the Drosophila antennal lobe increases separation between ensemble odor representations.” Nature Neuroscience 10:1474-82.

  • S.R. Olsen*, V. Bhandawat* & R.I. Wilson. 2007. “Excitatory interactions between olfactory processing channels in the Drosophila antennal lobe.” Neuron 54:89-103.

  • V. Bhandawat, J. Reisert, K.-W Yau. 2005. “Elementary response of an olfactory receptor neuron to odorants.” Science 2005, 308, 1931-1934.